What Should I do with my Leaves?

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Where you live and how many trees you have are the two things that will ultimately impact what you should do with your leaves. When considering leaf disposal methods, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and homeowners should feel empowered to use more than one disposal method in order to reap maximum benefits from the leaves.

Before you begin raking, it’s imperative to check to see if your town offers some sort of leaf pick-up program. Nowadays, many towns have trucks equipped with vacuum rigs that can suck up leaf piles left on the street and take them to a compost facility. This can be an incredibly convenient option—but one that’s likely only available in places that aren’t either highly urban or rural. Similarly, many towns will haul your leaves away so long as they are bagged up. While this may be a decent option for folks with small yards, bagging leaves can be a time-consuming process—and one that may not be the most efficient option if you have a large yard. Let’s take a look at six of the best ways to dispose of your leaves:

Mulch into your grass.

If you have a minimal amount of leaf coverage on your lawn, one option is to use a mulching lawn mower to shred them very finely, letting them decompose directly on your grass. Doing so will provide your grass with beneficial nutrients, but keep in mind: if the leaf coverage is too thick, it can prove detrimental to your grass.

Compost them.

If you already have a compost pile on deck, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t put at least a portion of your leaves in there. Leaves provide compost with that beneficial “brown material” it needs to thrive. For quicker decomposition results, try shredding your leaves (either with a lawn mower or by placing leaves in a garbage can and shredding them with a weed wacker). Keep in mind, however, that some leaves—like beech, sweet chestnut, and holly—aren’t suitable for compost because of their painfully slow decomposition times.

Use them as mulch.

Shredded leaves work great as a (free) mulching solution for your garden. A thin, even layer (about an inch thick should do) will both prevent weeds from sprouting up, and also help regulate soil temperature—which is especially important when temperatures start to drop.

Leaf Mold.

Leaf molds—especially for folks with big backyards—is perhaps the most underrated way of disposing your leaves. Essentially, leaf molds act a bit like a compost pile, except they rely only on two ingredients: leaves and water. While it can take a good amount of time for leaves to break down (anywhere from one to three years or so), the result is a compost-like product that can immensely benefit your plants by preventing runoff, improving water retention, and providing beneficial nutrients for your plants.

Burn them.

While this is by far the most exciting option (unless you’re oddly aroused by the aerobic reaction of compost), burning your leaves can be dicey territory. For starters, many towns prohibit it, or, at the very least, require a license to do so. So, if you get a hankering to set your leaves aflame, be sure to check with local ordinances. Similarly—and this perhaps goes without saying—but burning leaves can be pretty dangerous. If you’re dead set on doing this, be sure to have a safe and proper pit to contain the fire, and always have a fire extinguisher on deck.

Use the woods.

If you happen to own a property with woods abutting your yard, another option is to simply blow your leaves into the forest. While the leaves will take roughly a couple years to decompose, this represents a good option for those who have the right set up. Further, with just a little extra effort, the woods can be an excellent place to set up a few leaf molding stations.

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