Leaving leaves: A green alternative to raking NC yards
Friday, October 6, 2023
As fall approaches, North Carolinians are gearing up for their annual task of raking leaves. However, a survey conducted by the National Wildlife Federation found many people don't realize how much this common chore may actually harm the environment and wildlife.
According to Charlotte Glen, manager of the North Carolina State University Extension Master Gardener program, instead of buying mulch for landscaping, chopping up and using leaves offers the benefits of moisture absorption in a way that's friendly to the local ecosystem.
"It keeps the nutrients cycling through the system," she said. "Also, as the leaves decompose, they add organic matter to the soil, so they help improve your soil over time. And they feed a huge network of all types of organisms."
Glen said fireflies that are typically out in the summer depend on this leaf layer. The "Leave the Leaves Report" found that more than 70% of people know that fallen leaves and leaf layers are beneficial to wildlife and biodiversity - but only 25% of them leave their leaves where they fall. However, about 80% say they're open to doing this to benefit soil health and wildlife.
In addition to helping the environment, leaving leaves on the ground can also help reduce waste. The report said more than half the people who rake, remove or leaf-blow are throwing their leaves away. Around 14% said they toss 10 or more bags of leaves into the trash per year.
National Wildlife Federation naturalist David Mizejewski said putting them in bags for disposal is not the answer.
"Bagging them up and sending them to the landfill actually is a really bad thing," he said. "It really contributes some really nasty greenhouse gases to the atmosphere that are a piece of climate change."
Instead, he said, running over the leaves with a mower will help add the organic matter to your lawn. Many states such as North Carolina have taken action to keep yard waste out of landfills. According to the U.S. Composting Council, 17 states have yard debris bans in place.
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