Don’t let your leaves leave, or leave your leaves, use your leaves!

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This is the time of year when we have a lot of yard clean-up to do, especially if you have a number of large trees in your neighborhood.  Some municipalities and townships have leaf pick up plans so you can rake excess leaves to the curb to be collected and hopefully turned into mulch.  But when you collect and bag the leaves in your yard for waste collection, they may end up in the landfill. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, leaves and other yard debris account for 34.7 million tons of waste per year in the U.S., about 13.3% of all solid waste in the country.  Burning your leaves isn’t a great solution, either: The EPA notes that burning leaves contributes to air pollution, can be dangerous for those with lung conditions, and creates a risk of uncontrolled fires.

Large quantities of leaves left on lawns over a long period may cause damage to your yard.  This is especially problematic if the leaves are large, flat ones found on trees such as sycamores and some oaks, which can form a nearly impermeable mat.  If you have huge quantities of big leaves falling on delicate plants in a garden or densely covering grass in a lawn, you definitely don’t want to leave those leaves where they are. Plus, those big leaves aren’t likely to decompose over the winter—unless you take some basic steps.  Instead of removing all the leaves for pick-up, take advantage of the mulching features on most mowers.  It will break them down into smaller pieces, which won’t mat down as much, will break down faster, and won’t take up as much space as whole leaves.  You can also opt for a cheaper manual mulching mower like a Manual Walk Behind Reel Lawn Mower. The benefit of a mulching mower is that it crushes and shreds fallen leaves (and grass), but doesn’t remove them to a bag for disposal. Or you could use a dedicated leaf shredder. Throw the leaves you rake up into this machine, and out will come valuable mulch. Wondering what to do with your mulched and shredded leaves after you’ve processed them? There are all sorts of ways to put them to work for you. For example, they make the perfect mulch to use in perennial beds before winter comes; layer them about four inches thick but do not cover up the crowns of your plants. You can also use the leaf mulch around roses to help insulate them during the colder months. Some gardeners like to till shredded leaves into their vegetable plots at the end of the season to help replenish the soil. For the leaves you just run over with a mulching mower on your lawn, it’s okay to leave them right where they are—they’ll continue to break down and feed the grass. If you prefer a tidier look, or you’d like to speed up decomposition, put shredded leaves in your compost bin and you’ll have rich compost to use around your garden next spring. 

From composting to mulching to decomposing bits in the yard, you can make autumn leaves work for the benefit of your yard and garden instead of just giving them away or sending them to the landfill.

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