Dealing With Fall Leaves

Green Living Tip:  Dealing with Fall Leaves
By Jen Fontaine

If you’re worried about the pesky layer of leaves that is carpeting your yard at this time of year, you can take heart:  there are many solutions. Many areas offer a regular schedule of yard waste pickup dates, and if your township or borough offers pickup in biodegradable bags to be composted, this can be an easy solution to the leaf-buildup problem

However, there are other alternatives for the adventurous.  These leaves are rich in nutrients, and so there are many ways to take advantage of this natural resource. Use them as mulch, whole or shredded (see the note below on shredding); there are no seeds to worry about, so the leaves make a good moisture-holding layer while discouraging weeds.

Use them as cover for tender perennials: a 6-inch layer of leaves can protect vulnerable plants over the winter. One example: garlic planted in fall can sprout during warm winter spells; but a blanket of leaves will prevent that—the garlic will put down roots, but not sprout through the leaf cover. 

Add them directly to your compost pile:  these leaves are rich in carbon, and can provide a balance to nitrogen-rich yard waste, such as fresh grass clippings. Just spread them directly in the garden; shredded leaves can integrate well and work to improve the soil: they lighten heavy soils,, and provide nutrients to feed earthworms and helpful microbes.

Let them sit for two years, packed into their own storage areas (cages, plastic bags with insulation holes), shredding is not needed. In time, the leaves will turn into “leaf mold,” which looks like light compost and can do wonders for soil (I’ve been told it’s especially helpful worked into a bed of carrots).  The second source below features a link to a helpful video on this process.

For some of these uses, it’s a good idea to shred leaves, which makes them less likely to block light, and makes their helpful contents more available.  A simple way to do this is to drive a lawnmower over the leaves several times.  The first source below gives more details—and warns against some relatively uncommon leaf types, like sycamore, which need to be composted before being used in the garden.

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