Central Indiana is now experiencing peak fall foliage. The autumn colors can make for a great hike or photography session in Southwestway or Eagle Creek Parks before the cooler temperatures set in. While the leaves are beautiful, they can become problematic to our water flow and quality.
Leaves accumulate around storm water inlets and block the flow of water, causing flooding in streets and yards. The larger concern is when those leaves and nutrients make their way into the stormwater pipes and waterways. In a natural setting, the leaves that fall during this time of year are naturally recycled. As leaves decompose they keep the forest floor full of nutrients. When leaves fall onto paved surfaces found in urban areas, their decomposition leaches those nutrients onto roads, which will be picked up by stormwater runoff. These nutrients can reduce water quality in local waterways and lakes. They also contribute to the nutrient loading that causes the harmful algal blooms (HAB) that plague the Gulf of Mexico. The extra nutrients feed the algal growth, which in turn uses a large amount of oxygen. This depletes the water of oxygen and blocks sunlight needed for the survival of native fish and plants below.
You can take steps in your lawn to protect water quality, while also feeding your lawn and garden.
Use your fall leaf litter as mulch for your yard and garden. Mowing over leaves will aid in their breakdown and decomposition, which will provide a natural and free way to add nutrients to your yard. The same can be done for your idle garden. If you missed our free cover crop seed give away, or missed the planting window, you can still naturally and effectively provide erosion control and add nutrients to your soil by using natural leaf litter as mulch on your garden.
You can start a compost pile in your yard to use in the spring for your garden. This will take some space, time and other supplies, but it can be a worthwhile practice for those wanting to naturally fertilize their garden. It also helps to reduce trash and food wastes. More information on composting can be found through Purdue Extension.
Many urban farms throughout the city use leaves for mulch and composting. Consider dropping your leaves by Growing Places Indy for them to use on their beds, so they can continue to help Indy – Grow Well, Eat Well, Live Well, Be Well. Or check with your other favorite small farms throughout Marion County.
DPW will be conducting leaf pickup from November 12th until December 7th. Bag your leaves, leave them curbside on your trash day and DPW will pick them up free of charge. Each household is allowed up to 40 bags per week. If you have more leaves, or have leaves before or past their collection date, you can take them to the Citizen’s Transfer Station for a fee. The leaves collected by DPW will be composted and next spring the mulch will be available to Indianapolis residents.
Don’t Burn Your Leaves
Not only do burning leaves create plumes of smoke and harm air quality, but it is illegal to do so in Marion County. It can earn you a hefty fine of up to $2,500.
But before you mulch your leaves to bits, compost them for the spring or have them hauled away by DPW, be sure to make a big pile and have some fun!