We can be even greener. We recycle, we bike, we take public transportation, and then we dump our leaves into the street requiring them to be scooped and hauled away with heavy machinery and trucks? Meanwhile, our yards and gardens could use the fertilizer that leaves offer.

Yard waste is the second-largest component of our trash stream (behind paper), according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and makes up roughly 20 percent of most communities’ haul. Plus, loading and trucking those leaves to the landfill requires a lot of fuel.

Instead of raking our leaves into the street for the village to pick up, you can:

1) Use leaves as fertilizer: Add the leaves to your garden bed and then till the leaves under when you put your garden to bed for the winter. You might use your lawnmower to cut them up and blow them into your flower beds. The leaves will break down throughout the winter months and the worms will take care of any leftover leaves in early spring. Dead leaves are rich in minerals that can help your garden and landscaping grow. Leaves of one large shade tree can be worth as much as $50 of plant food and humus, according to CompostGuide.com.

2) Use leaves as mulch: Leaves can serve the same purpose as wood chips — they can suppress weed growth and hold in moisture. Leaves break down over time and again add valuable nutrients to the garden soil. The soil underneath the leaves is always moist and full of happy earthworms in the spring. The plants growing in these beds also outperform those with regular chipped mulch.

3) Use leaves for compost: Leaves are also a useful ingredient when making compost. Make a pile close to your compost bin and you will have a nice supply of “browns” when you decide to start a new compost heap.

You can save energy and landfill space while enriching your garden by putting your leaves around your plants and composting them.

Hannah and Jim O’Connor
Oak Park

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