With autumn in full swing, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is urging the public not to send the precious nutrients in fallen leaves up in smoke. “Instead, put them to good use,” the DNR suggests. “Your leaves, branches and other landscape materials can nourish your lawn, garden or community. It’s as easy as 1 – 2 – 3:”
- Composting leaves and food scraps is a great way to turn this waste into nutrients for your garden. A good compost mix needs both carbon (dead or dry leaves) and nitrogen (green materials like food scraps and grass clippings). Many types and sizes of compost containers are available. For tips on low-tech ways to compost, see the DNR tutorial.
- Your lawn will love you if you chop up and leave your leaves in place. Leaves are a free and natural fertilizer that add organic matter to enrich your soil. Use your regular lawn mower or 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 drop-off site. Sometimes there’s a fee, but the upside is that anyone can pick up composted materials for their yards or gardens.
While burning leaves seem to capture the scent of autumn, the DNR notes, 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. Turning leaves into nutrients is the healthy way to protect lungs.