LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
The leaves are falling all over the state now. Gorgeous as the colors may be on the trees as they turn from green to beautiful yellows, oranges and reds, they eventually dry out, turn brown and ultimately become litter on the ground.
You have several options of what to do with that leaf litter. Some are good, and some are not so good. Personally, nothing chaps my hide more than to see landscaping crews or homeowners using leaf blowers to blow leaves out into the streets to end up in storm drains or just pushing the leaves to someone else’s yard or property (steps down from her soapbox). I call this kicking the can.
Throughout the cities of Louisiana, drainage systems consisting of storm drains help remove excess water from streets, yards, parking lots, rooftops and sidewalks during heavy rainfall we frequently receive. When drains get clogged, this can lead to flooding, and that can be a major problem in most urban areas. Drains can clog when leaves accumulate in them, effectively creating a dam that prevents water from moving properly.
Storm drains were designed to collect rainwater and stormwater. They were not intended to collect grass clippings, leaves, trash and other yard debris. In fall and winter when deciduous trees have dropped their leaves in preparation for the cold months ahead, this can be a problem. Here are some things you can do to keep leaves out of storm drains and keep them working as they were intended to.
One way to use those leaves for your and your plants’ benefit is to use leaf litter as mulch. When you consider it, one of the best mulches on the market is essentially waste material dropped by pines. Pine needles are gathered and sold at a premium. Why not use what you have in your yard? The benefits of using the leaves as mulch are that they help retain moisture in the soil around your plants, insulate plant roots during cold weather and provide organic matter and nutrients to your plant as the leaves decompose. Additionally, you save money on mulch, and you don’t have to bag leaves and carry them to the curb on trash day. It’s a much better alternative.
If you don’t feel like raking, then why not use your lawn mower to mulch the leaves into finer material? You can use a mulching blade on a lawnmower and create finely chopped leaves that will fall down into the turf and decompose, becoming organic matter for the grass. However, be aware that over time, this can create thatch — organic matter that accumulates at the base of the grass plants just above the roots. So pick your battles.
One other thing you can do with those leaves is rake them up and make compost. If you don’t already compost, it’s a rather easy process. Designate an area in your yard for collecting compost items such as grass clippings, leaves, kitchen vegetable waste, coffee grounds, paper and egg shells. Contain the area with some type of boundary such as woven wire, wood or concrete blocks. You can also purchase plastic composting bins. Many types are available at large box stores, hardware stores and online.
The rule of thumb is to use a 2:1 ratio of green to brown materials (that’s the carbon to nitrogen ratio). Green materials include such things as fresh grass clippings, plant clippings and kitchen scraps. Brown materials include fallen leaves, dried grass, wood and sticks, paper and straw.
To get started, add material in layers: brown material, then some soil or compost starter containing the microorganisms that will decompose the material followed by more brown material. Layer in green material, which serves as a form of nitrogen and will help the microorganisms break down the carbon. Water is important for the process, but you do not want too much water. Turn your compost at least once a week if not more often. Compost is ready when it crumbles and feels like rich earth — dark brown and crumbly. It’s a great amendment for landscape beds and gardens.
Lastly, you can simply rake and bag the leaves and send them to the landfill if natural mulch and composting are not your thing. You could bag and give it to a neighbor you know uses them for mulch or compost.
Ultimately, to keep leaves from clogging storm drains and contributing to flooding, rake them and either bag or recycle them. Please don’t blow leaves out into the roads. Be an environmental steward and don’t dump leaves, yard debris, oil or trash into ditches, bayous, streams or any other type of waterway. Do your part to keep our streets drained properly and prevent flooding. You can do it. We can do it.
Fallen leaves can be collected and used as mulch in landscape beds and gardens or composted. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Leaves can be placed in a wire bin to compost for mulch or a soil amendment. LSU AgCenter file photo by Dan Gill
Leaves can be used as mulch in a vegetable garden. Photo by Kiki Fontenot/LSU AgCenter