The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is reaching out to the public with tips on putting those piles of fall leaves to good use. Leaves, branches, and other landscape materials can nourish lawns and gardens, the agency notes.
“Burning leaves seems to capture the smell of autumn,” DNR says in a press release. “But breathing leaf smoke pulls pollutants such as carbon monoxide, soot, and toxic chemicals into your lungs. While it may smell good, smoke is especially harmful to children, the elderly and those with respiratory problems such as asthma.”
Because turning leaves into nutrients is the healthy way to protect people’s lungs, DNR recommends these activities:
- Compost. Composting leaves and food scraps is a great way to turn this waste into nutrients for your garden. It’s also a great way to get kids outside, learning practical hands-on science. They can start by researching the many types and sizes of compost containers. For tips on low-tech ways to compost, see a DNR tutorial. Managing the compost pile provides exercise and a learning opportunity. A good compost mix needs both carbon (dead or dry leaves) and nitrogen (green materials like food scraps and grass clippings). Carry the project forward to spring, and use finished compost to enrich the soil and gardens.
- Mulching. Your lawn will love you if you chop up and leave your leaves in place. Leaves are a free and natural fertilizer and they add organic matter to enrich your soil. Use your regular lawn mower. Or use a mulching lawn mower to shred and mix leaves and grass into your yard
- Bag it. If you have too many leaves or branches to compost, check with your community to see if they collect yard waste or have a dropoff site. Sometimes there’s a fee, but the upside is that anyone can pick up composted materials for their yards or gardens.