This time of year you’ll see pickup trucks cruising slowly down the street. The drivers are looking for garden gold – bags stuffed with leaves.
Instead of seeing dead leaves as a chore, they see them as an opportunity. Those leaves can be used as mulch for garden beds and base for compost.
The easiest thing to do is simply leave the leaves on the ground. As you mow, the leaves are cut up and gradually sink into grass roots. There they begin to deteriorate, returning nutrients to the soil, helping to fertilize the turf.
They also help hold in moisture and protect plant roots from extreme weather. (Remember all that stuff that froze last year?)
Insects over-winter in the leaves, keeping the ecosystem strong. Those insects, in turn, feed birds and other small animals.
There are times when the leaves must be raked. If there are so many trees and the leaves are so thick they completely blanket the ground, raking may be necessary to make sure the turf gets some sunlight.
A word of caution: don’t reach into a pile of leaves. There may a snake hiding in there. Instead, make sure to use rakes to move them around.
Mowing leaves with a mulching mower with a bag attachment is the easiest way to take care of the leaves. Mow and empty the bag straight into vegetable and flower beds. Or if you don’t have a mulching/bagging mower, rake them directly into the beds. It’s cheaper than buying bagged mulch and better for the plants.
Next spring, you’ll have fewer weeds because they have been smothered by the mulch.
Dried leaves are the base for good home-made compost. Again, shred the leaves and pile them up in an empty corner, maybe by the trash can,
You can add a little nitrogen fertilizer and some garden soil to get the composting process started. Kitchen peels work well, too, and cut down on kitchen garbage.
Don’t put meat or other fatty items on the pile.
Use a shovel or spading fork to turn the pile, especially if you use kitchen leftovers. Keep the pile damp, but not soaked.
By spring you’ll have a free soil amendment.
For more information see aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkind/landscape/leaf-management-plan.