Want To Improve Your Lawn? Don't Bag Those Leaves From compost to mulch, fall leaves can be used to improve the health and ecological diversity of lawns. The National Audubon Society's Melissa Hopkins, who calls the leaves "free vitamins," has some tips on how to make the most of them.
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Want To Improve Your Lawn? Don't Bag Those Leaves

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Want To Improve Your Lawn? Don't Bag Those Leaves

Want To Improve Your Lawn? Don't Bag Those Leaves

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


I'm Melissa Block, and I've moved out of the studio for a little bit. I'm actually out standing in my backyard, which is covered with a blanket of leaves. It is raking season, but Melissa Hopkins from the National Audubon Society is here to help us figure out some alternatives to raking leaves and throwing them away. So, Melissa, I'm looking around my lawn. I see a mess. What do you think?


MELISSA HOPKINS: Well, you know, a lot of people think that when leaves fall, you need to really quickly scoop them up and get rid of them. But we think about leaves a little bit differently at Audubon. We think about leaves as vitamins, and they're free vitamins that naturally occur in your yard. So today, what we're going to do is we're going to use the leaves, and we're going to create natural mulch.

BLOCK: OK. And what's our first step here? What do you want me to do?

HOPKINS: We're going to use your push mower, and we're going to actually mulch up some of the leaves. If you shred them up and put them over your yard, they're going to create this nice blanket that's going to go into the yard over the winter. And then come spring, you're going to have a healthier lawn.

BLOCK: All right, I'm going to put myself to work here.


BLOCK: Let me get the gloves on.


HOPKINS: You see them getting chopped up a little bit. This is perfect.


HOPKINS: One thing you want to keep in mind is that you don't want a really thick layer of leaves anywhere.

BLOCK: How thin a layer are we chopping?

HOPKINS: Well, on your lawn, I mean, really very, very thin. You want to be able to see the grass with an occasional leaf or leaf cutting around.


HOPKINS: So the next step that we're going to do is we're going to rake some of them up because you have a pretty decent coating of leaves on your lawn. You don't necessarily want all of this here. We can make use of them in other parts of your yard. So time to rake.

BLOCK: Time to rake.


BLOCK: OK. We got a pretty good sized pile here now.

HOPKINS: Yup. And we'll just kind of place them under some of your trees and bushes in piles. And I'm going to say let's leave the pile around the trees and bushes about 3 to 6 inches deep.


BLOCK: I got a big handful.

HOPKINS: Yup. You have this really good tree back here. Let's get that tree.

BLOCK: Oh, the birch tree. How about this?

HOPKINS: Leaves in the forest provide about 50 to 80 percent of the nutrients that trees receive, and no one's going into the forests to clean up leaves.

BLOCK: Yeah.

HOPKINS: On top of that, leaves really protect the levels of moisture that reach the trees and also regulate the soil temperature. So they're like gold for trees.

BLOCK: Better to put these back on the river birch over here?

HOPKINS: Yeah. Yeah, sure. You also have two compost bins here...

BLOCK: I do.

HOPKINS: ...which is great.


HOPKINS: So the remaining leaves, we'll just put into the compost.

BLOCK: OK, great.

Careful, there could be some flies coming out.


BLOCK: OK. So the leaves just went in on top of the eggshells and teabags.

HOPKINS: Mm-hmm. Yup.

BLOCK: So we shredded the leaves. We've mulched in the garden. We've put some in the compost. We do have now a lawn that a lot of people would look at and say that looks awful because...


BLOCK: ...there are leaves all over it. It's messy.

HOPKINS: And I understand that, and I think part of it is kind of thinking about your lawn a little bit differently. Instead of this sort of perfectly manicured, untouchable space, think of it as this living, breathing habitat. And when you start thinking about it that way, you're going to start seeing that the more that you do stuff like this, the more birds are going to be attracted to your yard, diversity of birds, insects, butterflies, things like that. And also, the other point is with this leaf cover, if you leave it nice and thin and you make sure it's shredded up, come spring, it's not going to be there. It's going to go into the ground. So you're going to have your nice green lawn again.

BLOCK: So, Melissa, the only downside of what we've done with the leaves here today is that I don't have enough now for a leaf pile for my dog...


BLOCK: ...(unintelligible) jump in. We'll have to find some more.

HOPKINS: I know. That's true. That's one of the best parts of leaves is jumping in them.

BLOCK: Jump in them first, mulch later.

HOPKINS: Exactly.

BLOCK: Melissa Hopkins, thanks so much for coming by and helping me with my leaves today.

HOPKINS: Oh, it's great to be here.

BLOCK: Melissa Hopkins with the National Audubon Society here in Washington.

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