2013-11-20 / News

When leaves turn over

Properly disposed, leaves don’t have to be a pain
By Mark Battista

During summer, leaves shade and cool us. In the fall, they drench the landscape with a multitude of hues.

Then they fall and blanket your yard, and you have the onerous chore of doing something with all those leaves.

Knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do.

Dumping leaves into storm drains causes environmental problems and is illegal in Chesterfield County.

“Leaves clog storm drains which leads to flooding and damage,” said Lorne Field, environmental outreach coordinator with Chesterfield County Environmental Engineering.

Too many leaves can also affect the aquatic life.

“When the leaves reach a creek, they can blanket the substrate and impact the habitat of macroinvertebrates,” Field explained. “Also, leaves will leach tannic acid which contributes to pH problems, and the excess nutrients can lead to dissolved oxygen declines.”

Low oxygen levels in water can reduce the fish population and the population of other species that require higher levels of oxygen.

He said this problem is more prevalent at this time of year. Consequently, field inspectors spend more time addressing complaints, and crews spend more time repairing the damage caused by improper leaf disposal.

According to Field, “the county’s illicit discharge ordinance prohibits dumping or discharging anything that is not storm water into storm drains, ditches and creeks. This includes fertilizers, pesticides, household chemicals, motor oil and leaves. ... Failure to comply with the cleanup method and timeline can result in civil penalties of up to $1000.”

Thinking of burning your leaves?

You can as long as you are in a leaf-burning area and if you burn the leaves during the prescribed time periods, said Kristy Chapman, customer service representative with Chesterfield Fire and EMS. You can burn leaves in the fall from Nov. 15 to Dec. 15 only from 8 a.m. Monday through noon on Friday. In the spring, you can burn leaves from March 15 to April 15, Monday through Thursday, from 4 p.m. to midnight.

The map shows the areas where burning is allowed. If you are still unsure if you can burn leaves in your area, Chapman encourages residents to call Chesterfield Fire and EMS at 748-1426.

If you do plan to burn leaves, “have a rake and water hose next to the fire while burning,” advised Rich Reuse, county forester with the Virginia Department of Forestry.

Don’t wait until the fire escapes to find your hose.

“When the fire escapes, they [landowners] are running around like the Keystone Cops trying to get the hose hooked up, turned on, untangled and dragged over to the fire,” explained Reuse. “By then, it is often too late, and the fire is off to the races.”

Reuse suggested planning your leaf burning with an upcoming rain. Rake your leaves into piles, and then cover them with a tarp to keep them dry. The day after a rain, remove the tarp and burn the dry leaves.

“The surrounding area will be too wet to burn,” he added.

Mulching is what T. Michael Likins, director and county agent with Chesterfield Cooperative Extension, does with his yard of leaves.

“At my house, I recycle all the leaves. In fact, I steal my neighbor’s too,” said Likins.

Likins said mulching leaves returns nutrients into the soil. He said that when people rake, bag and haul them to the landfill, they are depriving their trees and plants of free nutrients.

“If you just look at the natural system, a lot of leaves fall so they can be turned back into nutrients that trees can use at a later date,” he explained.

Using a mulching mower or other type of mulching equipment will help to facilitate the decomposition of the leaves. “If you chip them [leaves] to the size of a postage stamp, they will fall down between the leaf blades of grass and decompose, and it’s like a slow-release fertilizer,” Likins said.

Even if you don’t have a mulching device, the leaves will still decompose. It will just take longer he added.

If you don’t want to mulch or reuse your leaves, you can bring them to either of two Chesterfield Convenience Centers. One is at 3200 Warbro Road, and the other is at 6700 Landfill Drive. According to the Chesterfield County website, a standard load, for example a pickup truck load, would cost $7.

You can make this annual chore a bit more fun by enlisting your kids. Let them amass large leaf piles on top of large tarps. Next, let kids be kids and watch them jump and disappear in the leafy mountains. Right before the fun starts to wane, have them drag the tarps around the yard to deposit the leaves around plants and in your compost pile.

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