Sending yard debris — all those raked leaves, mown lawns, and trimmed branches — to the landfill is nothing short of a travesty. The fact is that the trimmings we so often seek to do away with are valuable organic matter intended to feed forests and prairies into stable ecosystems. That stuff can help to make the environment healthier, but sent to the landfill, it only adds to our environmental problems.

And, this is one of those environmentally-conscious efforts that works out in our own favor. Most yard trimmings that are sent away would represent better gardens, stronger trees, and more savings, if we’d only put them to good use. It would take but a little forethought and effort for us to supply our own mulch, compost, and microorganisms.

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Understanding the roles of our yard waste can help us make a healthier environment in our own yard and the planet at large.

Grass Clippings

Cutting the lawn is actually horrible for the environment. Lawnmower engines aren’t regulated the same way as car engines are, so they are allowed to put out much more pollution per hour run. Closely-cropped grass stunts wildflowers and many types of wild plants that aid biodiversity and pollinators. It’s just added insult that often we send the clippings to the dump.

Grass clippings are actually incredibly useful. Fresh clippings are full of nitrogen, and dried grass is full of carbon. Clippings make great mulch around the base of plants and trees, feeding the soil life and preventing competitive weeds. Grass can also fill out the compost bin for next year’s garden. It warrants a hidden corner for safe keeping.

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Raked Leaves

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Leaves are absolutely amazing. They are full of nutrients. After all, evolutionarily speaking, trees drop them so that they can decompose and go back to the tree for new growth. It’s the beautiful cycle of life. Of course, deciduous trees (the ones that drop leaves in autumn) and lawns aren’t always great friends. The leaves fall and shade out the grass, so we rake them up and ship them off.

However, if we didn’t do that, they make fantastic mulch. Autumn leaves can be piled in quiet edges of the lawn or garden to spend the winter breaking down. By the time yardwork rolls around again in the spring, those nutrient-rich leaves will be wonderfully suited for mulching garden beds, and few things are as wonderful in the garden as three or four inches of mulch to suppress weeds, cut down on watering, rejuvenate the soil, and on it goes.

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Trimmed Branches

Unfortunately, not all branches are necessarily “trimmed”. Sometimes winter storms knock them down, or trees simply shed them. In other words, we can prune then deal with small branches quite easily, but occasionally, a large limb finds its way from suspended on the trunk to supine on the lawn. What then?

Well, branches are very useful. Fireplaces or fire pits require firewood, and that’s something that used to be cut and stacked rather than purchased at the supermarket. Both large diameter limbs and small branches have a role in this. Additionally, small branches can be snipped into shorter segments and piled around the bases of trees as mulch. Larger branches can be cut into segments to create garden borders and other useful stuff: insect hotels, rustic benches, etc.

Pulled Weeds

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Weeds, for some reason, scare the bejesus out of gardeners, but the reality is that a weed is simply a plant, by whatever logic, that has been deemed undesirable. Dandelions are edible and wildly nutritious, with lovely leaves and pretty flowers. Daylilies are absolutely amazing and edible, as are sweet violets, plantain, purslane, dock, and many other “offensive” plants.

So, weeds aren’t necessarily a problem. They might actually be a meal. But, even if they are pulled out of the garden, they shouldn’t be tossed in the trash. Instead, they should be added to the compost bin or dried out with grass clippings to be added back to the garden as nutrients. In general, weeds are serving some missing natural niche when they are in the garden, so we should treat them with respect and feed them back to the garden.

One thing is for sure: Whatever waste the yard produces definitely isn’t garbage. It’s something that we should cycle back into the healthy little ecosystem around the house. Once we start thinking this way, the environment as a whole will improve drastically.

Lead Image Source: Pixabay