Mulch and compost this fall to protect air quality and enrich your lawn and garden
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MADISON – Fall is one of the most beautiful times to enjoy Wisconsin’s outdoors and is also a great time to mulch and compost leaves and other yard materials to help protect public health and maintain Wisconsin’s natural beauty, state recycling officials say.
“Mulching leaves and composting yard materials allow residents to protect the state’s air quality and public health,” says Brad Wolbert, Department of Natural Resources recycling and solid waste chief. “They reduce disposal and landfill costs for residents and local governments and relieve communities of the environmental hazards of burning.”
State air quality and fire rules limit the burning of yard materials in Wisconsin and a growing number of communities also have local rules in place that further restrict or completely prohibit burning yard materials.
“Using leaves for mulch and compost can also enrich the health of lawns and gardens and save money on fertilizer,” Wolbert says. “Municipalities save money on collecting yard waste.”
This fall, manage leaves, branches, grass clippings and other yard trimmings with one of the following easy methods.
• Mulch leaves in place – Leaves are rich in carbon, phosphorus, and potassium – all essential nutrients needed by plants, including turf grasses. Mow leaves along with the grass during fall, and leave the finely chopped material on your lawn. Or rake up the leaf pieces and use them as winter ground cover for gardens and around trees and shrubs. This will help insulate plants and protect them from winter freeze damage.
• Compost at home – If you would rather compost your leaves, there are many easy structures you can build to start a compost pile. Be sure to maintain a mix of “browns” (fallen leaves, dead plants, coffee grounds and small branches) and “greens” (grass clippings, green plants and food scraps). Finished compost can be sprinkled into lawn soil or used in a garden to provide organic material and nutrients. Ultimately, this builds soil organic content and reduces the need for fertilizers.
• Keep leaves handy for next season – Dry leaves keep well in plastic bags and many people keep a few bags to add “browns” to their compost piles throughout the year. You can also use your stored leaves for mulch. In the spring, spread them on your garden and around trees and shrubs to save on the cost of buying new mulch.
For more tips on fall yard care, visit DNR’s website dnr.wi.gov and type search for fall composting.