Recycle Fall Leaves
By: National Gardening Association Editors
Maples, aspens, birches, and other deciduous trees are finishing up their autumnal show and dropping their foliage in preparation for a winter rest. What to do with all those fallen leaves? Don't blow or dump them into storm drains, streams, or wetlands. Of course, some leaves find their way naturally into these waterways, but excess leaves add an overload of nutrients that can promote algal blooms that harm aquatic wildlife. Recycle those nutrients instead, to the benefit of your gardens and landscape, by composting leaves or mulching them in place.
Making leaf compost is easy. It can be as simple as making a loose pile of leaves at least 4 feet wide and 3 feet high, but containing leaves in a bin made of wire mesh fencing that's open on one side is a neater arrangement that fits well into landscape settings. For faster composting, you can shred the leaves with your lawn mower before adding them to the pile, but this isn't required. You can also sprinkle in dustings of a high-nitrogen fertilizer as you add leaves to the pile to speed up decomposition, but, again, it's not a necessity. Do moisten the leaves as you build the pile. They shouldn't be soggy; just wet enough that you can wring out a few drops of water when you squeeze a handful. Turn the pile periodically and re-moisten it if it gets dry. Before the leaves fall again next year, you will have dark, crumbly compost to add to your soil to improve its texture or use as mulch in your gardens.
Mulching in Place
The easiest way to deal with fall leaves and recycle their nutrients at the same time is to simply mow over your fallen leaves as you mow your lawn in the fall. The tiny leaf pieces filter down between the blades of grass, where they'll decompose, adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil. Studies have shown that mulching leaves into the grass improves both the soil and the turf, and lawns green up quicker the following spring. While a mulching mower works best, any power mower will work, although you may need to makes several passes to chop leaves up finely enough so they don't block sunlight to the grass. Make sure your mower blade is sharp; mow when leaves are dry; and set the blade height 2 ½ to 3 inches high. This method works best with regular mowing as the leaves fall, so that you aren't dealing with a thick layer of leaves.