fallen golden autumn leaves

Ah, fall. Back to school, sweater weather, and warm drinks. Those brightly colored leaves are beautiful on the trees, but they lose their appeal when they start falling to the ground. Now, last week’s kaleidoscope of natural color become this week’s tedious yard work. But even fallen leaves have value. Here are five do’s and a don’t for dealing with autumn leaves.

Don’t Blow It Off

Don’t use a leaf blower. Simply blowing the leaves off your property into someone else’s is just rude. Blowing them into the street will clog storm drains and cause flooding when it rains. But even if you blow your leaves into neat piles, you’re still creating a lot of unneighborly noise and pollution.

Curbside Yard Waste

Leaves are not garbage. If your city offers yard waste collection service, use it. It’s the same amount of work to rake your leaves and scoop them into a bin (or bag them) for yard waste pickup as it is for garbage. Leaves thrown in the garbage usually go to a landfill, where organic matter contributes to landfill gas, the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the U.S.

Yard waste collection programs send fallen leaves into large-scale composting facilities, where they and other organic waste are recycled into a nutrient-rich soil supplement.

Home Compost

If your community doesn’t have municipal composting — or you just don’t want to pay for the compost made from leaves you paid to have hauled off last autumn — you can compost leaves yourself. This is the most labor-intensive option, but also the most satisfying. Compost bins can be built in a weekend and the basics of composting are simple to learn. By next spring, you’ll have a bin full of compost to feed your flowers.

two orange bags of leaves with rake resting on top
Don’t put your leaves in the garbage; they make an excellent mulch for flower and vegetable beds. Photo: werner22brigitte, Pixabay

Mulch Your Flower Beds

Or, you can skip the bins and go straight to the beds. Unlike animal manures and woody debris, leaf litter doesn’t have to be composted before it can contribute to soil health. Leaves make an excellent free mulch for flower and vegetable beds. Just rake leaves onto your planting beds, leaving space around the stems of growing plants to avoid crown rot. You can pile the leaves up to four inches deep to make a cozy winter blanket for your plants’ roots. To keep dried-out leaves from blowing around, you can run over them with a lawn mower before spreading them. Alternatively, keep your planting beds moist through the winter and the leaves will simply decay.

Mulch Your Lawn

Mulching, the easiest option, is also green and good for your yard. Ignore the leaves on your lawn. Continue mowing your lawn as usual until both leaf fall and grass growth have ended for the year. Your lawnmower will chop the leaves into pieces not much bigger than the lawn clippings that you already grasscycle. Leaf and lawn clippings will both break down quickly in the lawn, feeding the soil for next year.

Feature image by Kapa65 at Pixabay. This post was originally published on September 21, 2018.

By Gemma Alexander

Gemma Alexander has an M.S. in urban horticulture and a backyard filled with native plants. After working in a genetics laboratory and at a landfill, she now writes about the environment, the arts and family. See more of her writing here.