Leaf pickup begins Nov. 8 in Janesville


Or raking leaves can give you a wealth of nutrients for your garden, help improve water quality and make your lawn a little greener next year.

You decide.

From Nov. 8-19, the city of Janesville will conduct its annual leaf pickup. Residents are encouraged to rake leaves into the streets and away from the gutters and storm sewers.

City workers will collect them on the appointed day and carry them off to leaf heaven—better known locally as the compost facility and demolition landfill.

There, leaves are combined with grass clippings to create a huge mountain of compost that's turned with earth moving equipment. The end result is used by the city—and savvy homeowners who know good compost when they see it.

That's one option, anyway.

The city of Madison has started a new campaign, "Leave the Leaf," asking residents to compost their leaves. It's especially important in Madison, where leaves make their way to the storm sewers and end up in the city's already turbid and slime-green lakes.

Here, residents are trying to protect the Rock River and the rest of our little creeks.

Being forward-looking people, however, we prefer a motto that emphasizes the positive benefits of leaving our leaves, such as "Fall leaves, spring gold."

But why should we make our own compost when the city can do it for us?

First, it's inevitable that some of the leaves raked into the street will make it into the storm sewers.

Second, the city's process involves staff time, equipment time and expense and fuel time. Then, homeowners have to go get it at the compost site. People who have hauled compost know how hard it is to get that black soil out of their car's upholstery. Wouldn't it be handier to have the materials right in your own back yard?

UW Extension horticulture educator Mike Maddox and other Extension sources offered these options for leaf composting.

-- Make leaf mold, the least expensive and most versatile fertilizer/mulch—ever. Leaf mold is thoroughly composted leaves. The result, a crumbly brown mixture, can be used as a top dressing for garden beds or can be blended into the soil. It holds water well, prevents soil erosion, stops compaction caused by heavy rain and—when added to the soil—provides nutrients and a happy home for earthworms.

Making leaf mold, the easy method: Rake leaves into pile. Add water. Turn occasionally.

Slightly less easy, but much faster method: Grind up leaves. Place in pile. Turn occasionally.

-- Leaves can also be used as fall mulch. Grind up leaves and collect them with the bag on the mower or leaf blower/vac. Wait until the ground freezes, and then use them as mulch around plants. This helps protect plants from the freeze-thaw cycle.

-- Toss mowed up leaves into your own compost pile. This is what the city of Janesville does, except on a much larger scale. Grass clippings and leaves are mixed together to create mountains of compost. The compost is turned with earth moving equipment, and in the spring, it's ready for the city and residents to use.

Also, try to keep the leaves away from the storm sewer. A clogged storm sewer can cause flooding. In addition, leaves that end up in the storm sewers end up in the Rock River, affecting water quality.

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