Monday, November 10, 2014

4 Green Solutions for All Those Autumn Leaves

In which the Parsimonious Princess deals with the not-so-fun part of her favorite season. (Who am I kidding? I kind of even like raking leaves. Hooray for autumn!)

I love every season. Truly, I do. But there is just something about fall that makes my soul happy. The crisp air, the gorgeous colors, the spicy smells of cinnamon and clove, the harvest, canning, Halloween, pumpkin everything. Seriously, I could go on and on.

One drawback to autumn for many people is raking and cleaning up all those fallen leaves. Don't get me wrong, having leaves scattered all over the lawn is fun and the love kids playing in them, but eventually you have to face reality and clean them all up. Often, people will rake, bag up all their leaves, and toss them in the garbage.

I don't know if it's the gardening geek or the eco-friendly part of me that balks the most at the idea of throwing leaves into the trash. Fallen leaves totally have a second life in your yard and garden!

Autumn is still in full swing here (though there is snow in this week's forecast) and we still have plenty of leaves to rake up and still more that have yet to fall. Here are four ways I put all those fallen leaves to work in my yard:

1. Compost, compost, compost. 
Every fall, my compost bin in the backyard is full of brown leaves. Like, overflowing. But by spring, sure enough, the leaves have broken down a lot under the weight of winter snow. Leaves make for great compost because they're full of trace minerals that the trees have drawn up from the deep soil.

Do you have more leaves than you can fit in your compost bin? Save them for your compost bin later. Seriously, stash a couple bags away for the spring. Without getting into too much composting detail, basically the goal with a good compost is to have a balance between green and brown material so it'll break down. In the fall, it's pretty hard to get that green-brown balance; you're just going to have an excess of brown in autumn. However, if you save some of your leaves, all that brown material will be great for spring and summer time when your compost bin is full of green material from weeding and deadheading, especially since brown material is a little hard to come by in spring and summer.

2.  Make leaf mold. 

I learned about making leaf mold earlier this year when I read The Edible Garden by Alys Fowler (a fantastic book -- highly recommend it) and I've been so excited to try it ever since. Leaf mold is a really great soil amendment; it's even been called "nature's substitute for peat". The great thing is that leaf mold is super-easy to make: just bag up your leaves in a black garbage bag, poke some holes in the bag, and leave it alone for a year. The moisture that will get into the bag via the holes will get the leaves to rot. I've got my leaves bagged up and next to my garbage can. You can read an article from Alys Fowler for more information about leaf mold here.

3. Mulch with them. 

In the fall, I cover my garden bed with mulch with straw, cover crops, and leaves to protect the soil from the harsh winter elements. Leaves are a great mulch for frugal gardening --  I have to buy seeds for cover crops and I have to buy bales of straw, but autumn leaves are free. As you can see in the picture above, I've got some green cover crop (annual rye) in my garden bed, but most of the mulch I'm using is leaves. Leaves work really well to insulate and protect my garden beds, plus they break down and help my garden later on.

4. Leave them where they fall. 

This is the easiest solution of all -- no raking, no clean-up! Granted, this doesn't work for the leaves covering your lawn, but it's definitely one you can use for other areas of your yard. The picture above shows what it looks like under the pussywillow tree in a corner of my yard. I've never rake under that tree. I just let the small leaves break down and work their way into the soil. They also mulch some of the perennials that grow around it. I do the same with my lilac bush in one of my flowerbeds and with the quaking aspen in another corner of my yard.

So, yeah, having trees in your yard can mean a mess in the fall, but it's a mess that keeps on giving. Save those leaves from the trash and, instead, put them to work!


Lori Alper said...

We have a lot of leaves this year. Our entire yard is completely covered! What a great post. We generally rake them up and put them in the woods. Maybe I'll add a few to my compost bin.

Lindsay said...

I haven't had a yard for years and it's surreal to live in a place without leaves falling in the autumn! (Southern CA) good info for all those northerners!

Green Bean said...

I loved this post! Loved, loved, loved. We have several deciduous trees but, frankly, they are not enough. I have been known to post requests for other peoples' leaves on Freecycle (yes, I am that crazy) and to rake them up off the street. Another bonus to fall leaves, btw, is for insects and birds. Since letting leaves lie and mulching with leaves, we have had an increase in birds sifting through them which is great for wildlife, the soil and our entertainment.

Brenna Burke said...

We have lots of trees around us, but no real deciduous trees letting their leaves loose in our yard. They definitely make a mess, but this almost *almost* has me wishing for a few!

Betsy Escandon said...

Wow! So many easy ways to deal with leaves. Luckily, our city does compost green waste (including leaves). I love the idea of using them to mulch the garden.


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