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Ben Franklin said nothing in life is certain but death and taxes. This time of year, he could probably add a third item to that list.Leaves will turn colors and then they will fall off the tree. For some, this isn’t a big deal and is just a part of the seasonal cycle. For those committed to keeping the leaf litter off their yards, however, it is a constant frustration until the final leaf has fallen. For many, that means raking, mowing, mulching or for those lucky souls who are not compelled to clean them up, turning a blind eye to the crunchy, fragrant, mess covering yards and property.This time of year, it is not uncommon to finish a clean-up only to see that hard work erased by a windy day or rain. You either have multiple clean-ups that take less time or you have one long, irritating day that usually is in colder, not ideal conditions. Living in northern Michigan, that is a roll of the dice. Mother Nature, Old Man Winter and snow cover can make that decision for you, which forces you to wait until spring.
Doing multiple clean-ups or a single one have their benefits and drawbacks. It is something that each individual must figure out for themselves. For those who decide or are forced to wait until spring, Godspeed, especially if you have pets.For those looking for a way to deal with the season’s leaf litter, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has given three ways a person can deal with this annual rite of autumn.‘LEAF’ THEM BEWhat’s the easiest way to deal with fallen leaves? Just leave them alone — they’ll benefit wildlife and save you time and energy. If you’re worried about getting the stink eye from neighbors, you can assure them that the leaf layer is a critical part of the ecosystem. Salamanders, chipmunks, wood frogs, box turtles, toads, insects and other wildlife live in the leaf layer of the forest. Many important pollinators like moths and butterflies overwinter in fallen leaves.If you’d like to move fallen leaves off your lawn, you can rake them into garden beds where they will insulate perennials and keep soil in place during storms. Alternately, shred them with a lawn mower and let them become natural fertilizer for the yard.WORK SMARTER NOT HARDERTurfgrass specialists from Michigan State University want to remind people that more than 20 years of turf research has proven that fall is the optimum time to invest in the green you will enjoy next spring, according to MSU Extension educator Rebecca Finneran.Fertilization should be on the to-do list, but Finneran said people shouldn’t forget about a resource that may be staring you right in the face — those leaves covering your yard.On those slightly dewy mornings during October, Finneran said to elevate your mower deck to the highest setting and move over the leaves once a week, but if there is a heavy wind, you may find yourself mowing twice in one week. There will be an obvious leaf residue on the surface of the lawn that only lasts for a few days.Finneran said the tiny pieces will eventually sift down through the turf and provide future weed control and essential nutrients that can save you money and time. Come spring, you won’t even notice the tiny leaf particles.The decomposing pieces of leaves cover up bare spots between turf plants that are an excellent opening for weed seeds to germinate, according to Finneran. Experience has shown that nearly a 100% decrease in dandelions and crabgrass can be attained after adopting this practice of mulching leaves for just three years.If you have a bagging mower, Finneran said you can also alternate between mulching into the turf one week, and collecting the ground leaves to use as mulch in landscape beds and vegetable gardens. Covering bare soil with ground leaves prevents winter annuals from germinating and makes a great organic addition to the garden.
MAKE GARDEN GOLDAnother way to take care of fallen leaves is to collect them in a compost bin and let nature do the rest. They’ll break down into rich soil that plants love. If you have the space, you can also rake them directly into a vegetable patch and till them under in the spring.A guide published by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, “Home composting: Reap a heap of benefits” describes how to build and maintain a compost bin.BURN RESPONSIBLYIf you choose to burn leaves, here are some important tips for this disposal method.Before burning, remember to check for a burn permit to see if conditions are safe for burning, and know your local fire ordinances.If you’re in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula, visit Michigan.gov/BurnPermit or call 866-922-BURN to find out whether burning is allowed. People who live in the southern Lower Peninsula can check with local government or fire departments.“When burning, always have a water source nearby and never leave a fire unattended, even for a moment,” Paul Rogers, DNR fire prevention specialist said. “Debris burning is the No. 1 cause of wildfire in Michigan.”It’s OK to burn natural materials such as leaves, branches and logs. It’s not legal to burn plastic or other trash.In more densely populated area such as cities, residents may want to check if leaf burning is allowed. Within the boundaries of the City of Cadillac, leaf burning is not permitted, according to Cadillac firefighter Justin Richards.He said the city offers yard waste pick up as part of the city’s garbage and recycling service, which should help to eliminate the need to burn leaves.“As long as you have a designated container or leaf bags out there they will pick them up,” he said.He said on occasion the fire department will get calls of city residents burning leaves. He said a majority of the time it is people who are not permanent residents or who are visiting and don’t know they can’t burn leaves.Once the fire department comes, Richards said they are happy to put out the fire. He also said neighbors usually are the ones who alert the fire department of the burning, as leaves create a lot of smoke.
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