Residents face this issue when faced with lawn clippings, pine straw, and other small yard debris throughout the year. Once the raking and leaf blowing is done, where should it all go? If your answer is to blow it or pile it in the street… guess again!
Leaf litter poses a serious hazard when it accumulates in storm drains and gutters. The storm drains are designed to allow water to quickly drain away after a heavy rainfall, but if they become blocked or clogged, serious flooding issues can occur.
Leaf litter decomposes more quickly in urban gutters than it does in natural forest settings. The rapid rate of decomposition may release more nutrients into the surface water after rainfall events. It is important to prevent this, because the introduction of nutrients into the surface water is a leading cause of unsightly algae growth. While nutrients are useful in helping plants grow in your garden or lawn, too much of a good thing is actually a bad thing. Rapid influxes of nutrients from decomposing leaves and grass cause algae to proliferate in surface waters, making the water unfit for swimming and killing native plants and fish.
Because this is such an important issue to citizens, the City of Tallahassee even has an ordinance pertaining to it, prohibiting the introduction of yard debris into our streets and drainage system.
We need to keep storm drains and gutters clear, and proper disposal of yard debris is something each of us can do. How do we do it? There are a few ways:
- Utilize the leaf litter and grass clippings as mulch for flower beds, vegetable gardens, or along fencelines to prevent weed growth. Mulch has numerous benefits to the soil; it helps retain moisture, insulates and protects from temperature fluctuation, and improves soil health through the addition of nutrients via decomposition. Mulch can also help protect the quality of local lakes and streams by reducing soil erosion and stormwater runoff.
- Add the material to your compost; leaves are rich in minerals and nutrients. Grinding them with the lawnmower before adding to the compost will ensure that they release their nutrients and accelerate the composting process. Leaves add carbon and fibrous material to your compost pile, so it’s best to balance their contribution with a nitrogen source. Fortunately, grass clippings are high in nitrogen, so yard debris becomes a winning combination in your compost pile!
- Allow grass clippings or ground leaves to dry and decompose in place. They won't smother your grass; in fact they will add nutrients and help retain soil moisture.
- Collect and store the leaves and grass clippings in bags to be collected on yard waste pickup day. Proper disposal will keep our waters clear and help prevent flooding.
Fertilizing the Yard — LESS is BEST
What is good for our yards may be bad for our lakes. Lawn fertilizer can become pollution that disturbs the natural balance in a lake or stream. Fertilizing the lake leads to an ugly explosion of plant and algae growth (blooms), often followed by a massive die-off with the dead vegetation decomposing in the water. This high rate of decomposition uses up the oxygen supply in the water, depriving fish of the oxygen they need to breathe and causing fish kills. Certain algal blooms can even be directly harmful to us if we swim in them. So, fertilizers in our lakes and streams create a big, messy problem. By taking a few smart steps in yard fertilizing practices, this pointless personal pollution can be prevented.
Important points in fertilizing the grass:
Mature shrubs and trees usually don't need to be fertilized, particularly if they are well mulched. Fertilize younger shrubs and trees only as needed to make them grow faster, no more than three applications per growing season.
Soil erosion occurs when water washes topsoil from your property. When this happens, you lose the nutrient-rich resource that your plants need to grow, and once topsoil washes away, it is very difficult to replace. Eroded soil clouds the water in lakes and streams and contributes excess nutrients that disrupt the balance of life.
Erosion depends on two factors: how much and how heavily rain comes down and how much cover is there to protect the ground. Trees and other plants keep heavy rains from knocking the soil loose and washing it away. Roots hold the soil in place so your yard stays at home.
To prevent erosion in your yard:
- Plant a rain garden to slow the flow!
- Don't leave exposed soil unprotected — use mulch to cover bare areas and try to establish plants or groundcover there.
- Direct storm runoff away from unprotected bare soil.
- Consider terraces to slow the flow on steeply sloped places.
- Schedule construction or major landscaping for the dry season.