Fall is a wonderful time of year when the air turns cooler and offers welcome relief from summer heat, but it’s also a time of year when leaves can pile up, and people wonder just what to do with them.
Those living near lakes, rivers, and streams might be tempted to simply “let nature take its course,” allowing leaves to collect in the water, or even make fall clean up a little easier by dumping leaves and grass clippings in the water. That’s a bad idea for a couple of reasons. Why? From an environmental point of view, leaves create higher nutrient levels in the water that could harm water quality and increase potentially harmful algae blooms that can kill fish and other aquatic species. Secondly, if you’re caught dumping things in the water, you could end up with a large fine or even find yourself in jail.
According to the Texas Health and Safety Code, in this case, the Litter Abatement Act, illegally dumping items, including leaves, yard trimmings or similar materials is an offense. Depending on the type and amount of item dumped, offenses could fall under a Class A, B, or C misdemeanor or even a state jail felony.
“If we catch someone dumping items into the water, they could find themselves with a citation and a good few minutes of education into the laws regarding illegal dumping,” said Lake Granbury Ranger, Kyle Lewis. “However, if it happens again, they could receive fines up to $500 or, depending on what they are dumping, up to 6 months in jail. These laws also apply to dumping items in the dumpsters in our parks.”
Fortunately, there are ways you can meet the challenge created by piles of leaves and yard waste that protect our water and avoid a potential fine.
Use leaves and grass trimmings for compost. The same nutrients that can promote algae growth in our surface water can also be a great boost for our flower and vegetable gardens in the spring and summer. Put the leaves and clippings in a pile or a compost bin at the side of your yard. Add leftover vegetable scraps as you get them. Turn over the pile regularly to help it break down into compost, and in a few months, you will have a great natural plant food to mix into your soil.
Use them as mulch: As you may have noticed after clearing leaves that have sat for an extended time on your lawn, they can hinder the growth of anything they cover. Same goes for weeds in your garden. A layer of leaves used as mulch can slow weed growth that competes with vegetables and flowers for nutrients. Mulch can help keep moisture around those plants under the summer sun and will help to insulate the roots as the weather turns cooler.
Shred them in your yard: Mulching mowers can be used to chop those leaves into small pieces. Using this type of mower allows the leaf bits to slip between grass blades and reach the soil to give nutrients to your lawn. The process works best with moderate amounts of leaves. Larger amounts could overwhelm your yard and cover the grass.
Put them out on your curb: If all else fails, you can bag leaves and clippings and leave them at the curb for your local refuse service to cart away. Some cities will pick up vegetation separate from regular household garbage. Cities often compost this material to avoid filling landfills.
You can do your part to help protect the environment by properly disposing of your yard waste. Instead of seeing those leaves and grass clippings as a burden, the EPA says they should instead be considered a valuable resource.
Grass clippings and leaves, especially those that have been through a shredder or ground up by a mower, are considered ideal for composting because of their high nitrogen content. What do you do with the compost? After the leaves and grass have decomposed, the AgriLife Extension Service suggests applying a 3 to 6-inch layer of the compost around trees and shrubs, or a 2 to 3-inch layer in flower beds. Placing mulched leaves between rows of plants provides them with nutrients and helps to smother weeds.
For more information on leaf management, go here. More information about composting can be found here.