Leaves of red,
yellow, orange and green color the autumn landscape with their
vibrant, dramatic hues, compelling us to pull on soft, warm sweaters,
pour a mug of hot cider and curl up with a good book. But when they
leave their branchy homes and gently sway to the ground, the
compulsion to grab a rake and head outdoors for hours of back-breaking
labor erases the tranquility almost immediately. Why not just let them
For starters, if
left in place until spring, those leaves will smother your lawn,
depriving it of sunlight and air. And when the soggy, matted debris is
cleared away, youíll be left with dead patches that will require
reseeding. And thatís the best-case scenario: Diseases like snow
mold and brown patch, and all sorts of fungi thrive between leaf and
lawn, and youíll find dealing with the aftermath is even more
burdensome than raking would have been.
But there is one
way you can leave your leaves and have your lawn, too: Mulch them.
This is easier than it sounds, as it simply requires running your lawn
mower over the leaves to shred them into little bits. Those bits will
work their way between grass blades to the soil line, where theyíll
gradually decompose and even add nutrients to improve the health of
your turf. If there are too many to leave on the lawn, you can run the
mower over them and move the resulting mulch to your garden beds,
where theyíll serve the same function.
isnít only easier than raking ó itís more environmentally sound.
Bagged-up yard debris adds nearly 33 million tons of solid waste to
U.S. landfills each year, according to the Environmental Protection
Agency. And its decomposition under those conditions (without adequate
oxygen) can result in a release of methane gas, which tends to heat up
when exposed to sunlight and can result in a too-warm atmosphere ó
and thatís not good for plants, wildlife or us.
caused by ignoring your leaves is that many of them would be carried
by wind to our waterways, where theyíd release excess nutrients and
can throw the whole ecosystem out of balance.
If you arenít
inclined to chop up leaves with your lawn mower, you might consider
making leaf mold, an organic soil amendment and mulch thatís
especially useful in sandy soils due to its high moisture content.
Simply create a pile of leaves, water it lightly and cover loosely
with a tarp. Visit it once or twice over winter, stirring it up a bit.
Come spring, youíll have partially decomposed nutrient-rich matter
to add to garden beds and borders, or to sieve through steel mesh and
add to potting mix. True leaf mold takes at least a year to develop,
but this quick version will continue to break down after itís
applied. Itís almost like a shortcut to compost.
compost, thatís another lovely use for autumn leaves. Compost is the
single best additive available for improving any type of soil. It
improves the water-retention of sandy soil, improves the drainage of
clay and imparts a bounty of nutrients. Itís no wonder gardeners
call it black gold.
There are two
components that make up compost: nitrogen-rich "greens,"
such as fresh grass clippings, coffee grounds and fruit and vegetable
scraps, and carbon-rich "browns," such as newspapers, twigs,
dryer lint and all those autumn leaves. The best compost is composed
of a ratio of three parts "browns" to one part
"greens." (Never include fats, like meat or fish table
scraps, dairy products, oils, etc., diseased plants or weeds that have
gone to seed in your pile. And never add materials that donít
decompose, such as plastic or glass. Bird and rabbit droppings, and
horse manure are OK, but kitty litter and dog poop are not. As a rule
of thumb, excrement from carnivores is off-limits.)
"cook" up a batch of compost, youíll need a place to do
it. Options range from just piling up compost ingredients in a far
corner of the backyard, to homemade contraptions that can be as
utilitarian as a circular chicken-wire pen staked into the ground, to
purchased bins or tumblers that can cost anywhere from $50 to $500,
depending on how fancy you want to get.
Add your brown
and green ingredients, and keep the pile slightly moist, sprinkling
lightly with a hose whenever you add to it or notice it drying out.
You can add to it all year long.
break down, bacteria will heat the center of the pile first, so itís
important to mix or turn the heap regularly to ensure even
decomposition. This can be done with a pitchfork or garden spade on an
open pile. Tumblers have a crank or weighted design that requires less
exertion, but depending on the size and design of the unit, it still
might require some muscle.
can be added to new garden beds or vegetable plots about a month
before planting, sprinkled over the lawn and gently raked in, added by
the handful to planting holes or used as a top dressing around
established plants, trees and shrubs.