Leaves are natural—how can they be considered litter?!
When leaves fall to the ground, they naturally decompose and restock the soil with nutrients and organic matter. But what happens when there’s no soil to land on? What happens to those nutrients when leaves land on streets and driveways where they can’t be recycled into the soil? Here’s the short answer: they litter the lake with pollution!
Without any natural soil to soak into, when it rains, nutrients released by decaying leaves are washed into runoff water, which eventually ends up in lakes. Unfortunately, additional nutrients in a lake are not good—the nutrient phosphorus fuels algae growth, including toxic algae. When algae blooms die off, decomposing organisms use up the oxygen in the water. When this happens, the lake and its native plant and animal inhabitants suffer—low oxygen can even kill fish.
The good news is you help prevent leaves from littering your favorite lake! Here’s what you can do to turn leaf litter into treasure!
1. Use leaves as mulch: Leaves make fantastic mulch for your lawn and garden! Use the mower to shred those leaves and leave them on the lawn to decompose and put that phosphorus back into the soil where it belongs. Add shredded or whole leaves right to your garden beds to suppress weeds, provide insulation, and nourish tired soil. It’s free, and your trees and veggies will thank you.
2. Rake leaves onto your lawn before it rains: If you want to go the extra mile, rake the leaves off your driveway and street onto your lawn. According to a study by the University of Minnesota, this could reduce phosphorus in runoff by up to 60%.
3. Share your leaves: If you’re not into gardening, some municipalities have yard waste and brush drop sites. Or, consider bagging up your leaves and dropping them off at your local community garden!
4. If leaves end up in the lake, don’t use a rake to remove them. If leaves do get into the lake, it is best to leave them there. Raking the bottom disturbs the critters living in and on the lake bottom. Raking in the lake also suspends sediment and phosphorus into the water column, causing violations of state water quality standards and fueling algae blooms.
By following these tips, you can help prevent leaves from polluting lakes. And turn them into a valuable resource for your lawn and garden. Thank you for doing your part not to let leaves litter lakes!
If you want to learn more about living in a lake-friendly way to ensure the lake you love is restored and preserved, visit our LakeSmart page!