Eco-friendly Fall Yard Cleanup

Eco-friendly Fall Yard Cleanup

Fall is all about transitions, and nowhere is that more true than in your yard. Trees are dropping their leaves to prepare for winter, summer perennials are starting to fade, and garden tomatoes and melons are giving way to squash and fresh brocolli. All this change can create waste that takes time and energy to clean up, but there are a number of eco-friendly steps you can take to keep your yard clean and help it get ready for winter.

Compost

According to the Audobon Society, American yards generate two tons of clippings each year. A lot of that waste ends up being bagged and thrown away. So this fall, instead of bagging your yard waste, use dead leaves and lawn clippings to start composting. This not only has the benefit of saving valuable landfill space, but will also provide you with quality fertilizer to get your garden started again in the spring.

To start, collect yard waste and shred it using a mulcher or shears, then add to a compost bin. If your pile is mostly grass clippings (so-called “green waste,” which is rich in nitrogen), be sure to add a carbon source like leaves or straw (“brown waste”) to provide energy for the organisms doing the decomposing. Moisten the pile until you can wring a few drops of water from the leaves, then just let it be. You’ll need to turn the compost once a month or so (less during cold weather) and keep it damp. Be sure not to compress or tamp down the pile – you want to give the hard-working microbes plenty of air and space. Once the pile is started, you can add kitchen scraps or other waste, but don’t add meat, ashes, or pet droppings. All that lawn waste will be fertilizer in 3-4 months.

If you have waste that has to be bagged and discarded, be sure to use biodegradable bags.

Use Your Own Power

It takes a lot of work to keep a yard in tip-top shape. Gasoline powered mowers, leaf blowers, and string trimmers may make that work faster, but they also use a lot of energy and create hazardous fumes. In fact, a typical riding lawn mower actually produces four times as much pollution per hour as a car. Also, in addition to harmful emissions, the force from gasoline powered leaf blowers can create clouds of potentially hazardous substances such as mold, pesticides, and allergens.

So instead of using that gas, why not use your own power? Gather leaves with a regular old rake and cut the grass using a push mower. You’ll be saving energy and getting exercise. If your yard is just big to handle without help, purchase an electric lawn mower with a rechargable battery, which will eliminate noxious fumes and reduce gasoline consumption.

Take Care of Your Yard

While it might seem like your yard goes dormant in the fall, this is actually a great time to prepare your lawn for the new year. Aerating will allow oxygen and moisture to reach the roots of plants while they weather the winter and will also improve the water retention of your yard, which will reduce the need for irrigation. Be sure to use a manual and not a gasoline powered aerator.

Fall is also the best time to apply compost tea, a mixture made from soaking compost in water (this can be done in buckets with aquarium pumps or in specially designed brewers). Compost tea is rich in the nutrients and microbial life that improve plant health, and applying compost tea in the fall can help plants survive the winter and will provide a head start for your garden when spring arrives.

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Rachel Tardif is a freelance writer and editor specializing in environmental issues and sustainability.

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