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  • ljmarkson

I'm An Eco Bag Lady

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

OR I'm a Naturescape Organic Matter Scavenger Part Two. Much to the embarrassment of my sweet husband, I’m an eco bag lady. When we walk our dogs in the fall I play leaf bag detective and stop briefly to inspect every bag of leaves we pass by.

After close inspection I decided these lightweight leaf bags were from a one & done fall clean up of a maturely landscaped yard filled with native trees. They were mainly filled with an assortment of oak leaves which are now in my yard!

I scope out the bags I want on our walks, then go back later to get them. By myself. I can fit 8 bags in my car and often do four trips at a time. So far no one has ever asked me what I’m doing. I would imagine anyone who doesn't appreciate the value of leaves wouldn't care if the bags were taken by me instead of the county.

In the fall my car is often overflowing with bagged and stray leaves.

Leaves are an essential part of a yard ecosystem; providing natural mulch, healthy soil, wildlife habitat, and nature's winter butterfly, moth and firefly nursery. I don’t have many overstory trees in my small urban yard, so I import neighborhood leaves.

These bagged leaves in my driveway are waiting to be imported to, not exported from, my backyard!

I've learned a few tricks through trial and error that I'm happy to share with anyone who wants to nurture the natural nature of their yard with more leaves. To be a leaf bag detective look for the following:

Whole Leaves

A quick look in a bag tell me if it's filled with leaves or leaf bits. Mow and blow yard crews use commercial lawn mowers that shred everything in sight. Homeowners typically don’t. Shredding the leaves destroys any chance of insects, such as luna moth cocoons, overwintering in them. I’ll pass on the lifeless leaf dust.

Local Nursery Bags The type of bag used gives me a clue whether a homeowner did a fall clean up or a crew of eco-destroyers filled the bag. Big box stores such as Home Depot, Lowes, or Costco are a toss-up. Yet if the bag has the name of a local nursery or a ACE hardware store it’s more likely to be homeowner filled.

Lightweight Bags

A lightweight bag mean there’s a chance someone with a rake filled it and a yard crew hasn’t been sterilizing the yard all year with chemicals and power tools. Yard crew bags are heavy to save on the number of bags used and they are often filled with big branches, rocks, dirt, grass, shredded leaves or any debris they find in a yard. I just want leaves without any surprises!

I try do my bagged leaf collecting when there hasn’t been rain in a few days, but a lightweight bag ensures it isn't old and waterlogged from past rainstorms.

An Imperfect Lawn

If I see a tiny chemically green golf course lawn with no weeds, I keep moving. I don't want leaves that have been anywhere near that lawn. A yard with weeds means herbicides aren’t being used and fall clean-up is a seasonal event, not a weekly mission of eco-destruction. If the yard looks neat and tidy, there’s also a good chance a mosquito or pesticide company has sprayed into the trees, bushes and on the ground where the precious leaves are falling. That defeats the purpose of collecting the leaves.

This lifeless yard landscaped with non-native plants surrounding an overly green, weed-free lawn that undoubtedly comes from being drenched in chemicals isn't an ideal place to get leaf bags from. The only mature plant is a crepe murder! I'm sure an eco-destroying crew routinely chops up leaves that dare land on it anyway.

Mature Landscaping I look for bagged leaves from a yard with mature, natural landscaping, not one with twig trees, meatballed bushes and severely cropped crepe myrtles. A overly pruned landscape tells me yard crews have destroyed any life possible in it. There are so many other gently landscaped yards with leaves to choose from. Native Trees I won't find any native leaves from a yard littered with non-native crepe myrtles, ginko, kousa dogwood, smokebush, and Japanese or trident maples. I look for oak, tulip poplar, hackberry, willow, loblolly pine, native dogwood, and red maples. Native plant guru Doug Tallamy calls the oak tree a powerful keystone species because of its value as an insect host plant. An oak leaf has a better chance of having insects hiding in or attached to it than any other kind of leaf. These are the leaves I want in my yard next spring when hungry birds are trying to feed their babies!

I don't have large oak trees growing in my backyard, so I've added dozens of oak leaf filled bags I picked up in my neighborhood! Bonus if they have acorns in the bag for visiting squirrels.

This fall I’ve brought home well over 100 bags of leaves. My small yard is blanketed in a thick layer of leaves in areas where nothing else is growing and a lighter layer everywhere else. I’m done collecting for the year, yet every time I pass a bag of leaves I still take a peek inside and tug at it. My eco bag lady habit is hard to kick!

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08 feb 2022

I'm an eco bag lady too! I'm so happy to know there are more of those like me out there! Happy Hunting :)

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06 jun 2021

I'm so glad to know that I'm not the only eco bag lady in town! I've been scavenging bags of leaves from curbside for over 20 years. And yes, I'm picky too. No bags that look like they come from a yard spraying chemicals or pruning non-native bushes. Sometimes I return the bags to the neighbors if I know them and the bags are in good enough shape to reuse. Otherwise I spread them under the leaves that I dump to kill invasive non-native plants that I'm trying to eliminate (like Lenten rose and vinca).

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15 dic 2020

What do you do with the bags after?

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