Smart Ways to Recycle Autumn Leaves

Recycle your autumn leaves

Autumn leaves are beautiful when they’re still on the tree, but not so lovely when they land in your yard. Most gardeners don’t welcome the yearly tradition of raking autumn leaves, but coping with a wet, heavy, soggy mat when spring rolls around is even worse.

What to do with autumn leaves?

You can hope they blow away with the next strong wind – definitely not a good way to establish friendly relationships with your neighbors.

You can haul them to the landfill where they take up space until they eventually rot. Or, you can be creative and put those nutrient-rich leaves to good use in your garden.

How can you recycle those piles of leaves? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Leave them on your lawn where they’ll decompose and enrich the soil, but chop them into smaller pieces first. This is easy to do by running the lawnmower over the leaves with your mower on the highest setting. Mow a second time, cross-ways. A second mowing is especially important if leaves are large or the layer is thick.   
  • Use your mower, with a bag attachment, to make rich, organic mulch. Dump the mixture of leaves and grass clippings around plants where the super-high concentration of nutrients can do the soil a whole lot of good. Mulch also retains moisture and protects plant roots from repeated freeze-thaws in the winter. If you have more mulch than you can use, bag it up and save it for spring.
  • Dig or till a thin layer of leaves into your vegetable garden where they’ll break down and release nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and other important nutrients to nourish next year’s vegetable crop. Leaves also attract earthworms that speed decomposition and aerate the soil.
  • Put leaves in a pile next to your compost bin and cover them loosely but securely with a tarp so they don’t blow away. When winter freezes are a thing of the past, mix the leaves with grass clippings or other green material and add them to the bin. Leaves tend to be slow to decompose, but the process will be faster if you chop them with a lawnmower first. If you have a lot of leaves every year, a leaf shredder might be a good investment.
  • Got chickens? Store bags of leaves in a dry location, then add a few handfuls every so often and let the hens do all the work as they scratch around the chicken yard. The poopy mixture will be the best soil additive in the world when you dig it into your garden beds in spring.