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Gardening

Discard Your Fall Decorations the Eco-Friendly Way

Our guide to shedding your autumnal adornments—without sending them straight to the landfill.

By Lillian Stone

Oct 2019

Pumpkins sitting on hay bales
Photo courtesy ShutterstockWhat you can do with your fall festival leftovers.

Pumpkins, hay bales, towering sunflowers: 417-land is home to some impressive fall porch displays. But what happens when it’s time to ditch your seasonal accoutrement in favor of holiday decorations? What happens to all those pumpkins and corn stalks? We chatted with Springfield Compost Collective Executive Director Justine Campbell to get the scoop on sustainable solutions for gourds, hay bales, black walnuts and more.

Gourds and Pumpkins

Jack-o-Lanterns, while fun and festive, rot notoriously quickly. Even if you’re not one to carve a grin into your gourds, you don’t want to be the neighbor with the rotting pumpkins on their porch come December. Fortunately, pumpkins are fully compostable. “Essentially, anything plant-based is compostable,” Campbell says—although there are a few stipulations. First, Campbell recommends breaking your pumpkin up into four- to six-inch pieces, which will allow it to decompose much faster once added to the composting bin. While the Compost Collective offers several community composting options, hundreds of massive pumpkins tend to overwhelm the system. This year, the collective plans to debut extra bins to remedy the problem. Not keen on composting? You can put your pumpkin to good use. Butterflies love rotting fruit, so cut your pumpkin into slices, freeze it, then leave it in your garden to attract butterflies in the spring.

Hay Bales

Like other forms of organic matter, hay bales are compostable. Don’t chuck your bales into the compost bin just yet. Hay can be a great supplement to help grass seed grow. Hang onto your hay until late spring, then lay your grass seed and loosely top it with about a quarter inch of hay. Keep in mind that one bale will cover 1,000 square feet of seed. Any extra bales can be shredded and placed in the compost bin.

Corn Stalks

Like pumpkins and hay bales, you’ll need to shred your corn stalks into much smaller pieces before placing them in the compost bin. This is especially important if you’ve set up your own composting zone in your backyard. “The pieces have to be able to heat up evenly, so the microorganisms will grow and the material will decay faster,” Campbell says. A properly executed warm compost pile can disintegrate materials in as quickly as four months, although it could take up to eight months depending on the size of the material.

Black Walnuts

Lucky enough to have a walnut tree in your front yard? While black walnut season might be a bit messy, it’s also lucrative for those willing to get their hands dirty. Stockton-based Hammons Products pays $16 per hundred pounds of hulled black walnuts through the months of October and November. Find your nearest buying station at black-walnuts.com, then get to gathering. Just be sure to scrub your hands and nails after handling the walnuts—they can leave a telltale brown stain for days.

Other Autumnal Yard Waste

Looking to rid yourself of miscellaneous seasonal yard waste like leaves or spiky sweet gum tree balls? Organic materials like these can be great additions to your personal compost pile. If you haven’t yet taken the compost plunge, check out Springfield’s Yardwaste Recycling Center (3790 South Farm. Road 119, Brookline) near the Southwest Wastewater Treatment Plant. Springfield and Greene County residents can drop off everything from grass clippings and leaves to shrub trimmings, free of charge. Just make sure to remove your yard waste from any containers like trash bags or boxes, and leave the lumber and dirt at home.

What to Do With Your Leaves

Fallen leaves can cause a headache just by themselves, so we've rounded up some more specific tips on what to do with them.

Where To Haul Them

Cost: $5 per vehicle
Next time you’re wondering what to do with those trash bags full of leaves, just haul them out here. While you’re here, be sure to pick up mulch for all those mums you’ve planted.

Who Can Rake Them

Cost: Prices vary but start at $90
Rotting leaves are acid. As they break down and decompose, they can kill your grass, which is why it’s important to rake them up and haul them off. Depending on the size of your yard and the number of trees, Nixa Lawn Service suggests scheduling one leaf removal session at the beginning of fall and another at the end of the season.