Fall Turf War: Why Your Lawn Is the Enemy of Your Leaves

Fall Turf War: Why Your Lawn Is the Enemy of Your Leaves

  • Editor’s Note: This article was written by Valerie Blaine, nature programs manager for the Forest Preserve District of Kane County.

leaf collection

By Thanksgiving each year, a truce is called in the war against leaves. Big yellow trucks have come and vacuumed them up, and lawn services have made them disappear. Bagged and banished, leaves are out of sight, out of mind. Until next year, when we will resume the fight.

Do you ever wonder why we fight leaves in the first place? Why is it that the jewels in the autumn treetops fall out of favor when they hit the ground? Why do leaves become a burden, a nuisance? Everyone, it seems, just wants to get rid of them.

The culprit in the campaign against leaves is the suburban lawn. Yes, it’s fundamentally a turf war. Lawns comprise turf grasses, which are not native to this area. They will eventually die under a blanket of leaves. Lawns just don’t get along with leaves.

Forest ecologists calculate the amount of leaves in a forest using a measure called the Leaf Area Index. Based on studies of hardwood forests using this measure, we can estimate that a one acre wooded lot in Kane County will produce approximately 240,000 square feet of leaves this year – give or take a few!

A uniform carpet of green grass is the aesthetic standard for the suburban lawn. People will fight for this “look,” and take up arms to defend it — insecticides, pesticides, mowers, blowers, you name it.

This is all very expensive. Not only is there a cost to us (time, energy, and money), the cost to the environment is considerable (use of non-renewable resources and resulting pollution).

Is there an alternative? Yes. Landscaping with native plants is a wonderful way to make peace with leaves. Leaves that fall to the ground in a natural area can be left to decompose, and this will enrich the soil. Leaves on the ground also provide habitat for a host of native animals. There are lots of opportunities to learn about native plants and landscaping. Contact Creek Bend Nature Center for a list of resources programs@kaneforest.com.

Another part of the solution is to designate an area of the yard, if you have the space, to leaf composting. Leaves can be used as mulch and placed as bedding material for shrubs and perennials. Depending on the type of leaves (for example, oaks, maples, elms), they will decompose and become part of the soil. More information on composting is available on the Kane County Recycles composting page.

Leaves are just part of nature’s bounty, which we’ll be celebrating soon with family and friends at Thanksgiving. Rather than treating leaves as adversaries, we can be at peace with them. And maybe a little thankful, too.

  • Valerie Blaine is the nature programs manager for the Forest Preserve District of Kane County. You may reach her at blainevalerie@kaneforest.com.

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