7 Things to Do with Fall Leaves

Go ahead and pile them up, then jump in. It’s still as much fun as ever. But after the fun, don’t rake them to the curb. Leaves have multiple purposes in the yard and garden. They can even enhance your home. Scoop them up and use them as a free and sustainable garden treat.

  • 01 of 07
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    Having a three bin system makes it easier, and more likely, you will turn your compost piles. Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    Leaves are the perfect “brown” or carbon ingredient for your compost pile. Layer them in between all the “green” garden debris you gather as you clean up the garden and prepare it for winter. They will decompose even faster if you shred them first, but it’s not required. A compost pile or bin isn’t really required, either. Many town and city waste disposal sites will gladly compost your leaves for you and put the final product out for residents to avail themselves of next spring.

    And if you find...MORE yourself with too many leaves to work into you compost pile without ruining the balance. Save them for spring, when green ingredients are more readily available. Or check out my next suggestion, leaf mold.

  • 02 of 07
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    Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    Leaf mold may not sound like a good thing, but it does miraculous things for your garden soil. Leaf mold is the crumbly, compost-like product that remains when leaves are left to decompose on their own. It’s what makes the forest smell so earthy.

    Leaf mold doesn’t add a lot of nutrients to the soil, but it improves the structure of soil, greatly improving its water holding ability. It also attracts the beneficial organisms that are so important to a healthy soil.

  • 03 of 07
    Using Shredded Leaves to Mulch Around Plants
    Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    Put your leaves to work right. Leaves make an excellent, attractive mulch, suppressing weeds and eventually decomposing and feeding the soil. This is one time when it really is wise to shred them first. A thick layer of wet leaves will form a solid mat and block water and air from getting through to the soil. However when shredded, they form an airy cushion that slowly settles in and settles down. One caveat – shredded leaves will blow around in a windy fall. Hose them down, when you first...MORE spread them. It won’t take long for them to stay in place on their own.

  • 04 of 07
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    Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    Leaves can be used to insulate tender plants or even for cold storage of vegetables. To provide a few degrees of protection for plants or planted containers, circle them with wire fencing and stuff leaves all the way around. In the spring, rake them up and toss them in the compost.

    If you have a root cellar or storage basement, you can use dry leaves to layer your vegetable in, rather than saw dust or newspaper. They will easily last through winter.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07
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    Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    Run the lawn mower over them and let them stay on the lawn and feed the grass. Of course, you don’t want a layer so think that it smothers the grass, but if you mow a few times, as the leaves gradually fall, the shredded leaves should disperse enough to allow the grass to breath. At the very least, you can probably get by with only one raking and then mow over the rest.

  • 06 of 07

    Preserve Them

    How to Preserve Leaves
    Photo © Marie Iannotti

     We all know how beautiful fall leaves are when they’re on the trees, but they don’t lose that beauty just because they drop. Gather some up and dry, press or otherwise preserve them. This is a fun project for kids and it’s also a great way to decorate your home with a fall theme. The leaves won’t last forever, but they will certainly get you through the holiday season.

  • 07 of 07
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    Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    Skip the middleman and add your leaves directly into your soil. Soil is constantly in flux and you never have enough soil amendments. Leaves make a great, free alternative to carrying bags of manure home.

    This works best if you shred them first, but don’t let that stop you. You can either turn them into the top few inches of soil or simply spread a layer of leaves on top of the soil and chop them a bit with a fork or spade. Just make sure they are making good contact with the soil, then let...MORE nature work its wonders.

    The leaves will begin to disintegrate and provide a wonderful habitat for earthworms and other beneficial organisms that reside in your garden soil. As with mulching with leaves, it would be good if you added some slow release nitrogen at the same time.

If you are lucky enough to have several trees in your yard, you can radically change the quality of the soil in your garden. But even if you don’t have trees, you can always ask your neighbors if they’d mind you taking some of theirs. If you offer to rake them up for them, I can pretty much guarantee the answer will be “Yes!”.