Autumn winds have nearly defoliated the trees, leaving an abundance of leaves on the ground and many people wondering what to do with them all.
This season is difficult for me: I wince at every leaf bag on the curb and every little leaf fire. If I had a compost bin big enough, I would haul them all home to take advantage of the nutrients those leaves contain.
Even if you are not interested in composting, leaves can benefit your lawn and garden. Besides the plant-essential nutrients held in the tissues, leaves that are chopped and left on the ground will help retain soil moisture, reduce erosion and control weeds. Composted leaves added to the soil loosen tight clay, and help sandy soils retain moisture.
Instead of raking, try mowing over the leaves in your lawn with a mulching mower. Large leaves usually chop into pieces small enough to be left on the lawn. Small leaves might not chop up as well, but unless they are covering the grass, that is okay.
Leaves damage lawns and other plants by covering them and blocking sunlight. Without sunlight, plants cannot photosynthesize (make food), resulting in eventual plant death.
When leaves are too abundant to mow and leave, rake and shred them. You can mow over a raked pile to chop the leaves if you do not have a shredder. Add shredded leaves to the compost pile, vegetable garden or flower garden. Pile chopped leaves around tender perennials for winter protection, or use the leaves to mulch the entire flower bed. Whole leaves are okay, but they are more likely to blow away than chopped ones and take slightly longer to decompose.
If the ground beneath your trees is mulched and you are not growing grass, shrubs or flowers there, simply leave the leaves. They will naturally decompose and return nutrients to the soil for the tree to use next year.
If you rake your leaves out into the street or ditch, they will wash into storm drains in the next rain and be carried directly to the river. As the leaves decompose in the water, they deplete oxygen. Excessive leaves can also plug the drains and push more water into the street.
Leaves placed on the curb in Lawrence on Mondays will be taken to the city's municipal composting facility, which is just as good as doing it yourself. For others, unless you are participating in a yard waste recycling program, leaves set on the curb are headed to the landfill. That means more cost to cities (generally passed on to users), loss of valuable landfill space, and the loss of nutrients to the environment.
The best bet? Chop those leaves up and use them. They are your very own source of free compost.