Leaf Management for Cleaner Waters

Decaying leaves are a great natural fertilizer for gardens and lawns, but they also release unwanted nutrients into our local waters. When it rains, stormwater flows through leaf piles in streets creating a “leaf tea” that is rich in dissolved phosphorus. The phosphorus present in this “leaf tea” is not removed through traditional stormwater treatment practices and is carried through our storm sewers to local lakes, rivers and streams. Too much phosphorus can lead to toxic algae blooms, low oxygen levels and green murky waters, none of which are good for animals living in the water or those of us who use it for recreation. We need your help! Join us in removing leaves before the storm this fall to help protect Dane County waters.




Communities right here in Dane Co. are leading the way in finding solutions to leaf management.

2016 City of Middleton Neighborhood Leaf Pilot

The City of Middleton and the Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy partnered with the Madison Area Municipal Stormwater Partnership on a pilot aimed at engaging residents in street leaf removal efforts. The pilot study took place between October 1st and November 30th, 2016 and included two test sites and one control site within the City of Middleton. Residents living within the test area were mailed information about the pilot requesting their participation in September 2016. Interested residents returned a commitment card pledging to remove leaves from the curb and street in front of their home before the rain.  Electronic (text or email) rain event alerts were issued to pilot participants 1-2 days prior to a rain event prompting participants to remove street leaves. Details and results of the pilot are available in the Summary Report.


You Can Help!

Remove leaves from street within 5 feet of the curb and any storm drains in front of your property before it rains, then:

  • Pile collected leaves neatly onto the terrace to keep them from falling back into the street. Covering the piles with a tarp is a good idea to prevent them from blowing around. Check with your municipality for pick up dates and other requirements so that your leaves are on the terrace for as short a time as possible, OR
  • Compost your leaves. Place composted leaves in your vegetable and flower beds. Composted leaves amend soil that's healthy for plants and it’s free! Compost bins start at about $35 and come in various sizes and shapes or you can also make a simple leaf bin from chicken wire or other metal fencing. The leaves will take longer to break down if they are not shredded or mixed with other wastes, but they will eventually decay, leaving a nice crumbly humus which can be put on gardens and lawns to enrich the soil, OR
  • Use leaves as mulch. Rake leaves to vegetable and flower gardens, under shrubs or around trees to help suppress weeds and help prevent weed seeds that sprout in the spring. Decayed leaves enhance the soil for any planting bed and save money on purchased mulch.
  • Mow leaves. Leave the leaves shredded by your lawn mower right on your lawn. The small pieces quickly break down, releasing nutrients for a green, well-fed lawn. Or if using a bagger, use the chopped up leaves as mulch.
  • Follow your municipality's guidelines for leaf collection if you rake. Contact them for more information. Information on MAMSWaP municipalities’ pick up requirements can be found through the links below:
Municipality Options
City of Fitchburg B, C
City of Madison A, C
City of Middleton A, C
City of Monona C
City of Stoughton Page 1   Page 2 C
City of Sun Prairie B
City of Verona C, D
Village of Cottage Grove C
Village of DeForest C
Village of Maple Bluff A
Village of McFarland B
Village of Shorewood Hills A
Village of Waunakee A
Town of Blooming Grove B
Town of Burke C
Town of Cottage Grove C
Town of Madison A
Town of Middleton C
Town of Westport C
Town of Windsor C
Dane County C

Option A

  Leaves raked to terrace, but not in the street.

Option B

  Leaves placed in bags at curb.

Option C

Yard Waste Drop Off Sites. Contact your municipality for locations. If your municipality does not have a drop off site, all Dane County residents may take their leaves to the county compost site.

Option D

Verona only: Because of machinery limitations, actually requires residents to rake leaves directly in the street.

Other Leaf Resources:

  • Print this handy seasonal guide to yard care to learn about practices that can help our waters all year long.  

    Seasonal Guide