A Green 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 broccoli. While it may be beautiful, all this change can create waste that takes time and energy to clean up. To help you prepare for winter, here’s our list of the eco-friendly steps you can take to make sure your fall cleanup is as green as it can be.
According to the Audubon 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 can’t set up your own compost bin, look in your area for industrial compost sites that accept yard waste. Also keep an eye out for curbside pick-up: some cities that operate compost sites will have specific collection dates in the fall. You can also ask local garden clubs or community gardens if they need extra yard waste to use as mulch. And, no matter where your yard waste is going to end up, if you’re hauling it away make 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 rechargeable 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.
If you live an area prone to frosts, fall is also a good time to prep your yard for the cold weather ahead. Put away hoses you won’t need and insulate outdoor fixtures to prevent damage from the cold. If you have a rain barrel you may want to pack it away—when the water inside freezes it can expand and damage the container. Also bring in any potted plants that won’t make it through the winter outside and prepare any coverings you may need for outdoor plants so you’re ready when the first freeze arrives.
Get Your Neighbors Involved
If you’re dreading all that fall yard work, why not make it a little more fun? Get the community together to celebrate Fall with a leaf-raking, yard-trimming block party. You can help out your neighbors who may not be able to take care of their yard on their own and make sure everyone’s waste is disposed of properly. Then, when the work’s all done, kick back and enjoy the last few days of warm weather with a barbeque, potluck, or other refreshments.