Fall Leaves — Managing A Beautiful Resource

Each fall, property owners repeat the cycle of managing the leaves that drop from the trees into their yards. What you do with these leaves can either benefit or harm your yard’s environment as well as that of the lake or other waterway downhill from your property. Why? Because leaves contain significant concentrations of phosphorus and other nutrients.

One way of handling leaves is to use a mulching mower to mulch the leaves right back into your yard. By mulching them into fine particles, the nutrients in the leaves will be released by decomposition back into the ground and then reused by the trees and grass as nourishment. It’s free fertilizer! It’s wise to mow up the leaves frequently, though, before rain and snow compress them into your lawn.

Another benefit of mulching leaves back into your lawn is that it recharges your soil with organic matter. This material acts like a sponge, allowing the soil to absorb more rainwater and hold it for your trees, grass and other plants to use. This will lessen the impact of drought. In other words, your plants and grass will stay greener longer during dry periods if your soil has more organic matter.

If you are a village or city resident, mulching your leaves can also help keep municipal costs down since it reduces the amount of leaves the public works department needs to haul away.

If you cannot mulch all of the leaves into your lawn, collect them and compost them to improve the soil in your garden. The compost will be a wonderful resource for increasing your garden soil’s fertility, its moisture-holding and infiltration capacity and its attractiveness to beneficial soil organisms such as earthworms.

Never rake, blow or dump your leaves into the street or a storm drain. The leaves will be swept away by storm waters into Chautauqua Lake or another body of water, where their nutrients will end up fueling nuisance aquatic plant growth and accelerating sedimentation. You may not realize it, but you live on “waterfront property.” Most everyone in Chautauqua County lives on a lake or stream when it comes to storm water runoff. That’s because the distance between your yard and the water’s edge is as close as the nearest storm drain or road ditch. Depositing your leaves into the street or storm drain can also clog storm drains, causing flooding during heavy rains and significant cost and time to municipalities to unclog them.

Leaf burning should also be avoided. It not only causes air pollution that adversely affects human health but also water pollution as the phosphorus and nitrogen compounds in the leaves are released in the atmosphere and then fall back to earth with precipitation, resulting in over-fertilization of our waterways.

Fall leaves are not just beautiful to look at – they are a valuable, natural resource. Recycle them back into the earth for the trees and plants of your yard to use over and over again.

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local, private nonprofit organization with a mission to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty, and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. To sign up for e-news updates, find more information on watershed care or to support CWC’s conservation activities, visit us at chautauquawatershed.org or facebook.com/chautauquawatershed or call 664-2166.