By Michelle Cassell
It is now okay to leave your leaves to fall where they may. The third annual “Leave Your Leaves” campaign is being sponsored by The Town of Chapel Hill and local partnerships with New Hope Audubon Society, The Town of Carrboro and Keep Durham Beautiful.
This campaign aligns with Chapel Hill’s Climate Action and Response Plan adopted in 2021 to address climate change and its impact on our communities.
Leaving your leaves to compost on your lawn can be an environmentally friendly and cost-effective solution. Experts tell us that decomposing leaves provide valuable nutrients such as nitrogen and potassium for grass and soil. This promotes healthy lawn growth in the spring and provides nutrients to fertilize plants and trees.
Not removing your leaves also can help improve soil structure and reduce runoff. Decomposing leaves help build organic matter in the soil, improving its ability to retain moisture. This can lead to a healthier lawn that requires less watering. According to Susan Barton, a plant and soil sciences professor at the University of Delaware, the leaves also act as a natural sponge, absorbing and storing rainwater and reducing the risk of soil erosion and the runoff of pollutants into streams and waterways.
The layering of leaves to compost can also protect wildlife and encourage biodiversity. According to The North Carolina Wildlife Federation, many wildlife species also use the leaf layer as their primary habitat. In the case of moths, 94 percent of species rely on the leaf layer to complete their life cycle. The caterpillars find cover under leaves, emerging as adults the following spring. Most of our backyard birds rely on butterfly and moth caterpillars as the primary food source for their young during nesting season. If you remove all of the fallen leaves, there will be fewer insects in and around the yard and likely fewer birds, too.
The leaves benefit many wildlife species, including salamanders, wood frogs, box turtles, earthworms, and millipedes. Additionally, thousands of insect species rely on the leaf layer to burrow for the winter. (For some, like the noble lightning bug, this is where they lay their eggs.)
Reduction of pollution
An EPA study provides interesting information about the amount of waste accumulated by yard trimmings, including leaves. EPA estimated that the generation of yard trimmings in MSW (municipal solid waste) was 35.4 million tons in 2018, 12.1 percent of MSW generation.
According to statistics from the Town of Chapel Hill, leaf collection during 2022-2023, the town’s leaf collection machines and dump trucks consumed 6,012 gallons of fuel. They generated over 61 metric tons of CO2 in emissions.
Of course, leaf blowers have become a nuisance in most communities because of air and noise pollution. This TLR article provided scientific information about them as Southern Village examined trying to ban them.
If you are still not convinced
The Town of Chapel Hill will continue to collect leaves piled behind the curbs of residences within town limits. The information on how, where, and when collections will occur can be found here.
Michelle Cassell is a seasoned reporter who has covered everything from crime to hurricanes and local politics to human interest over the course of 35 years. As managing editor, she hopes to encourage writers of a wide range of backgrounds and interests in TLR’s coverage of Southern Orange County news.