Like many others, I have enjoyed working in my yard after a long winter. We have been mowing our lawns and working hard to clean up brush to prepare outdoor spaces for gardens and summer cookouts. As we do this, it is important that we take time to properly dispose of yard waste and not just dump it into ditches or streambanks.
It might seem harmless to toss our grass clippings, leaves, and sticks into streams, after all isn’t all from nature anyway? But, it actually causes significant problems for water quality, aquatic habitats, and the environment.
Yard waste should never be dumped or blown into ditches or streambanks. As these materials decompose, they use up oxygen, stealing it from the fish, frogs, and salamanders that need it. Streams with low levels of oxygen often have foul odors and offer poor habitat, and water quality. Also, piling yard waste on the streambanks kills the grass and vegetation underneath it. Streambanks are more likely to erode once the vegetation is no longer growing on it. It can be argued that larger logs and branches in the stream may provide wildlife habitat and channel stability. However, small sticks, leaves, and grass clipping will float downstream and clog culverts and bridges. This can lead to flooding and erosion problems downstream.
Pesticides and fertilizers in the lawn and garden can serve a purpose, but they can also contaminate water if not applied properly. This could also harm beneficial bugs, insects and other wildlife. Another concern is that some ornamental plants can become invasive. Even if just parts of plants are dumped onto a streambank, they could start growing to the point of taking over. Furthermore, a pile of yard waste is unsightly. After all, that is why we don’t want it in our yard in the first place. It isn’t being very neighborly to moving an ugly pile from our house, to someone else’s.
You might be thinking that this all makes sense, but how should we be disposing of our yard waste? One thing we can do is to reduce the amount we are making. Consider leaving the lawn clippings on your lawn or mowing often enough so that the clippings are small and do not need to be bagged up. If this doesn’t work for you, consider using a mulching lawn mower. Leaving organic material such as grass clippings on your lawn is actually good for the health of plants and soil.
Grass clippings, weeds, leaves, and other yard and garden wastes are great for a compost. By composting, you are not only getting rid of your yard waste, but the composted materials can be later used to add fertility to your yard and garden. Many communities will accept yard waste for composting. Some may even pick it up at curbside, and some have a service yard that you can drop your waste off at. Contact your community leadership to find out what options you have.
Be a good steward of the land this spring, and all year long! For more tips on how you can help our environment in your own yard, contact the Shiawassee Conservation District.
This project has been funded through Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Nonpoint Source Program by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.