A DNR air quality expert says burning leaves is not the best way to handle them.

Heavy winds and rain have help knock down more leaves and they are starting to create a ground cover in many yards.

DNR air quality specialist Christine Paulson says there are still some areas of Iowa where you can burn leaves — but she says that’s not the best option. “The downside is that there are air pollutants that can come off burning leaves.  A lot of people think of leaves as something really natural and organic,” according to Paulson, “but they do have  compounds in them that when they are burned can be harmful. Carbon monoxide fine particles.”

She says some people like the smell of burning leaves — but she says it can be a health risk. “That can really impact folks who already have some breathing issues. Folks with asthma, respiratory problems, a lot of times the elderly are more susceptible — and children as well — since childrens’ lungs are still developing,” she says.

Paulson says leaves provide a lot of benefits when not burned. She says one good use is composting them. “The leaves are a great addition because they provide carbon and that needs to be added if you put green material,  food scraps like nitrogen. It needs both of those to have a good compost pile,” Paulson says. “Another option is to just mow them into the lawn if you’ve got a mulching mower. But even just a regular lawn mower can work as well.”

She says there are a lot of different types of composting systems now available. “If you don’t have a lot of space, a lot of people like to use the containers. The turning containers and things like that, that can heat it up and keep it moist,” she explains. Those with more space can just put the leaves in a long pile and keep turning them as they break down.

Leaves are falling in Iowa and filling up yards.

You may be worried that the mowed up leaves will do damage to your lawn.  Paulson says you can spread the leaves out a bit before mowing them if you have a large amount — and after they are chopped up they will break down even more. “It’s really good for the lawn. It’s a natural form of fertilizer for the lawn so it can help so you don’t have to apply as much chemicals on them. It will help keep the lawn green –because it helps keep moisture in there —  so it doesn’t dry out as much,” Paulson says.

Many communities provide some sort of bag or container pick up for your leaves and yard waste. Paulson says some allow you to rake the leaves to the curb and they come by and suck them up with a suction truck. Communities often have free drop off of leaves and other yard waste that you can take advantage of to clean up your yard.