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Earth Notes

Earth Notes - Garden Cleanup


Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Garden Cleanup

Ah, fall apples are ripe, the air is crisp, and it's time to rake the fallen leaves from the yard. Or is it? Some experts say the American obsession with cleaning up the yard may be a good idea that often goes too far.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, waste from yards makes up more than 13 percent of the stuff Americans toss into landfills. That's a lot of dried leaves, grass clippings, and trimmed-off flower heads. As that material decays underground, it produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas that's far more effective than carbon dioxide at warming the environment.

That yard waste can do a lot of good when it's left in place instead. Downed leaves can help conserve the soil's water and protect plants from cold winter winds. And the nutrients in leaves and grass clippings are an invaluable contribution to next year's plant growth.

It can be unsightly to leave everything where it falls, which is why many gardening experts advise chipping downed leaves and spreading them around. That way, they decompose more quickly.

You can probably handle yet more yard waste if you use it to build a compost pile. Create a mix of dried leaves and nitrogen-rich wastes of other kinds, such as vegetable remains and coffee grounds, and you'll create a fertile habitat for the creatures that create rich dirt. Next year, the compost you produce will be a gift you can give back to your garden's soil.

-Peter Friederici