MSU is raking in thousands of dollars in leaf disposal savings.
Employees of MSU Landscape Services used to waste time and gasoline each fall hauling hundreds of yards of leaves to an on-campus compost site.
Since about 1999, however, employees cruise over thick mounds of leaves with lawn mowers to mulch leaf litter into the soil, Landscape Services Coordinator Steve Frank said.
Landscape Services’ employees maintain MSU’s campus and perform various outdoor duties such as mowing lawns and pruning trees.
The move shaved about $30,000 per year off the university’s budget for
leaf cleanup and stems from MSU researchers, Frank said.
Crop and soil sciences doctoral student Alex Kowalewski expanded on a study performed about 10 years ago by a team of MSU researchers, said Trey Rogers, a crop and soil sciences professor who oversaw Kowalewski’s project.
In the study preceding Kowalewski’s, the group set out to determine whether people could mulch leaves back into the grass without harming it.
Kowalewski and a team of MSU researchers examined various pesticide-free maple and oak leaf mulches for their effectiveness in preventing dandelions in Kentucky bluegrass.
“One thing I’m hoping this research will kind of get into people’s heads is rather than taking these leaves and dumping them into a landfill, we can stop adding to the municipal waste out there (by mulching),” Kowalewski said.
The two-year maple and oak mulch study began in 2003 and its results were published in the April 1, 2009, edition of the horticulture journal HortTechnology.
In the study’s first year, Kowalewski said the team recorded about 80 percent fewer dandelions in the test plots and about 50 percent fewer in the second year.
He said the team could not determine whether one leaf species prevented dandelions from growing better than the other species.
The contributions of MSU researchers to the field helped transform landscaping practices into greener and more efficient processes, Frank said.
MSU Landscape Services uses money saved by mulching leaf litter to put employees to work in other areas, such as picking weeds.
“We’ve known about (the 1990s study on mulching leaves) for quite some time,” Frank said.
“We recently heard about (Kowalewski’s research). We think it’s wonderful. It saves us so much time and labor.”
But Rogers said changing leaf disposal habits is not enough to see a continual reduction in the number of growing weeds, such as dandelions.
“The neat thing about the leaves is that basically everybody’s got a few in their yard,” Rogers said.
“Maple leafs and oak leaves do a nice job of getting rid of dandelions, but so do my cultural practices. They go hand in hand.”