Sustainable Yard Practices

Prepare Your Yard for Winter
It's important to consider these sustainable yard care practices that will help protect our regional waterways, which are so sensitive to rotting leaves and other common pollutants. Phosphorus is one of the most troublesome pollutants in storm water runoff. Phosphorus comes from many sources, and it is the primary cause of water quality problems in our lakes and streams. Everything that is or was living contains phosphorus. It is in leaves. It is in lawn clippings. It is in animal wastes. It is an ingredient in most lawn fertilizers. It is even attached to soil.
When leaves, lawn clippings, animal wastes, fertilizers, and soil are picked up by storm water runoff and are carried directly to our local lakes and streams, they provide the lakes with excess phosphorus. This excess phosphorus causes increased algae growth. Algae are small green plants that live in lakes and streams. Increased algae growth is observed as green algae blooms or scums on lakes. Too much algae is harmful to a lake system. It blocks sunlight and prevents other plants from growing. When it dies and decays, it also takes much needed oxygen away from fish. Limiting phosphorus reduces algae blooms. You can reduce the amount of phosphorus entering a lake or stream by keeping your leaves and lawn clippings out of the streets and gutters.
Leaves and lawn clippings are a major source of phosphorus. When they are swept or washed into the nearest street or storm sewer, they end up in your local

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lake or stream. Keeping your leaves and lawn clippings out of the streets and gutters will have significant benefits for your local lake or stream.
Most of us mulch our grass clippings right back into our lawns. This provides valuable nutrients for our lawns and saves us trips to the yard waste drop off sites. It turns out that mulching leaves back into your lawn is also good for our lawns and reduces the time we spend raking in the fall.
How to Mulch Leaves on Your Lawn
It is important that you use your mower to mulch leaves into your lawn. Mowers cut leaves into small pieces, allowing them to fall into and beneath the grass canopy instead of resting upon it. This process results in increased surface area, which in turn makes it easier for insects and microbes to consume the leaves and get the nutrients back into the soil.
Benefits of Mulching Leaves on Your Lawn
There have been several long term studies of the effects of leaving leaves on the turf. These studies all conclude that your lawn will benefit from mulching leaves right into the grass. Lawns where leaves were mulched directly into the turf where healthier than the lawns with no leaves added and had fewer weeds. Leaf mulching also provides a softer surface in the following summer providing a cushion that would be more forgiving for persons engaging in physical activity in the area.
Leaves make great mulch and winter ground cover for gardens and around shrubs and trees. And, they are free. Shred your leaves and pile them on top of your annual garden or around perennial plants and shrubs. This will help insulate plants and protect them from winter freeze damage. In the spring, you can till the leaves into your garden. Since large leaves get wet and mat down they provide poor insulation it is important that you shred your leaves first. The best way to do that is to run over them with your lawn mower.
Another great at home use for leaves is to make leaf mold. Leaf mold differs from compost in that when you compost leaves you mix them with other organic matter. When you make leaf mold, all you use are leaves.
How to Make Leaf Mold
You can chop up your leaves with a mower or use whole leaves for this process. Next by making sure the leaves are thoroughly moistened. Dry leaves begin to lose nitrogen, and this hinders the decomposition process. Next, you can take the slow route and pile leaves in a sheltered, inconspicuous area of your yard and leave them for two years. Or, you can make a 3-by-3-foot leaf mold bin from drive stakes and chicken wire or rabbit fence and place the leaves in the enclosure. You can speed up either process by turning your pile or cage every 8 to 10 weeks. There are several ways to use leaf mulch. Leaf mold is a good substitute for peat moss. It has similar qualities and it's a renewable resource from your own lawn.
Benefits of Leaf Mold
Leaf mold greatly improves the structure and water-holding capacity of soil. It also creates the perfect conditions for the beneficial organisms that live in your soil. Best of all, it’s easy to do. Leaf mold is a perfect mulch because it can hold up to 500 times its own weight in water. Place it around (but not touching) the crowns of annuals, perennials, and vegetables to help them maintain moisture during summer. It's easier for roots to penetrate soil and take up nutrients when the soil is
not as dense and leaf mold makes it easier for roots to penetrate. A University of Connecticut study found that soils amended with leaf mold increased their waterholding capacity by almost 50 percent. The amended soil could hold nearly a two-week supply of water for vegetables.