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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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!