Leaf Your Leaves in Your Yard!

 Every fall there’s a certain amount of cringing going on during my trips around town when I see  bags or piles of leaves out at the curb – all of that wonderful organic material that could be used to recharge your yards just tossed away!  So this is a prime opportunity to discuss the best way to handle your leaf cleanup at the end of the gardening season. I can’t urge you strongly enough not to give your leaves away!  It is a huge waste of natural materials that could benefit your yard! There are a number of really simple environmentally friendly ways to handle your leaf drop that don’t starve your yard and also decrease your impact on municipal services to save $$$.

So what to do with those leaves?

The first method is the lazy man’s way (my favorite) and involves very little raking and effort on your part. Simply run your lawn mower over the leaves where they lie and chop them up into small pieces.  (Yes, I know that using gas mowers are considered an unsustainable gardening practice, but consider the greater good.)  The chopped leaves can stay on your lawn and decompose there. This is an excellent way to help build up the soil. This works best with a mulching mower which is meant to chop materials (you do grass cycle, don’t you?) into fairly small pieces. Do this as needed until the end of the season and the leaves will break down over the winter providing your soil with valuable nutrients. You won’t have to rake a single leaf, and your lawn will thank you for it with improved performance next year.  Check out the video below to see how easy it is.

Another method not quite so effortless is taking those chopped up leaves and mulching your garden beds with them. This will protect your plants from the vagaries of the winter weather and also provide your beds with valuable nutrients when the leaves break down.

If you run out of time (or energy) you can forgo the chopping with the mower and leave the leaves in the beds where they fall and pile on more.  This will accomplish two necessary tasks.  (1) Removing your leaves from any hard surfaces on your property where they can become slick and messy. And (2) removing those leaves from your lawn where they can smother the turf grass.  This also will provide for a neater end of the year appearance.  Research does show that most garden plants in the colder hardiness zones appreciate a nice cover of leaves to protect them, however there are a few that do not so you need to be aware of your specific plant needs.  If you mulch with unchopped leaves, you are also faced with the issue of cleanup in the spring because most leaves will not have decomposed by that time.  If you trees have fine leaves you can probably leave them be in the spring and the appearance will not suffer unduly.  However, many of us are blessed with fine old trees like oaks, maples and sycamores, etc. that have large leaves and for a groomed appearance in your beds in spring you are going to have to remove them.  [I find myself hard at work every spring removing leaves, chopping, and then returning them back into the beds as mulch.  I never said that gardening doesn’t have its chores.]

You can also add your leaves to your compost pile. No matter how small your yard there is always room for a small one tucked away in some out of the way place. The leaves will decompose more quickly if you chop them with your lawn mower as recommended above. Then gather them up (it’s amazing how a large pile of leaves reduces in size) and add them to the pile. If your pile is composed only of chopped leaves, you can make leaf mold for use at a later time. If you have green debris from your garden you can mix the two in layers and let it sit over the winter. Turn the pile when the weather permits and you will eventually have the Black Gold of the garden world – compost.

I tend to use a combination of all these methods.  When it is not too late (or cold) I happily run my lawn mower over piles of leaves that have fallen on the lawn and that I have removed from the beds.  Since raking afterwards is not 100% perfect, some is left on the lawn after I have either blown or raked the chopped product into the beds or put in the compost pile.  However, as the season winds down and I find myself beset with end of the year chores, one of the final acts of the season is that last pass with the lawnmower where I leave the leaves in place.  The yard is then as neat as I can get it before I retreat from the garden and await the first snow.

So I encourage you to avail yourselves of the multifold benefits of leaf hoarding.  Your yard will thank you for it.

by Joanne Mullowney, dedicated leaf hoarder.