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By Taylor Wren
It’s officially autumn! Summer is coming to a bittersweet end and most aren’t sad to see it go. Even though the temperatures still linger in the 90’s we see decorations starting to appear on porches and in yards.
One of the greatest things about living here in the midwest, is the beautiful color change to the leaves. Those leaves then fall, end up all over our lawns and raked into plastic bags that get dumped at the landfill. Did you know there are more organic and useful things to do with those leaves? I’m here to tell you about seven of them.
1. Compost Pile: You can turn your leaves into organic matter by composting them. Organic matter is the key ingredient to making a super healthy soil to grow gorgeous plants. Chopping the leaves, especially the thicker leaves, is extremely beneficial because it will help them decompose and avoid rot. This also helps with aeration and even disease fighting. The most efficient way to chop the leaves is to mow over them and either gather them in the bag of the mower or use the vacuum on your leaf blower.
2. Leaf Mulch: Another productive way to use the leaves in your yard is to use them as a form of mulch. Smaller leaves you can rake directly into your flower bed, however avoid having them directly against the base of the plant. Try to form a donut ring around the base with them, it also promotes airflow this way.
3. Nutrients for the Lawn: You can always choose to leave fallen leaves where they lay. Running the lawn mower over then three or four times should make them small enough so they don’t create a dense mat on the grass. Chopping them up with the mower also makes them small enough to decompose quickly. The decomposition of the leaves feed microbes and eventually feed the lawn to create a healthy lawn.
4. Leaf Mold: This is a kind of mulch that is made differently than most, especially considering it’s leaves. It’s made by a cold process involving fungi. As with everything else, this works best by shredding and easiest with the lawn mower. After shredding you’ll put it in a sturdy bag and let it sit for about a year or so. Make sure to moisten the leaves before bagging and poke holes in the bag for air flow. After it becomes soft and crumbly it is ready to use. Just put a layer about three inches thick around your perennials, vegetables or shrubs. Make sure not to place it directly on the base because it could invite disease.
5. Prepare your spring garden: This can work both raised beds and just sectioned off gardens. One way is to dig about eight to twelve inches down and amend the soil with your leaves. You can also just spread the leaves on the surface but make sure they come into contact with the soil. Once they are decomposed, you’ll repeat the process until the first frost. Both ways work best if chopped as well, however you can use a fork or spade instead of the mower for these areas.
6. Leave leaves for the critters: Fallen leaves may not be home or shelter to us but to our pollinators, that play an important part in our ecosystem, it is. Other wildlife such as bee’s, butterflies, snails and dozens of arthropods depend on dead plant material to provide them with protection from the cold and predators. Did you know that many butterflies pass the winter as chrysalises or cocoons disguised as dry leaves during winter? Keep an eye out when you’re picking up leaves to throw out!
7. HAVE FUN! As adults we may not have the same spark as most children do to jump into a pile of leaves but it’s one thing we can do for them. To have the freedom to jump into a pile of leaves may seem silly but joyful to others. My first autumn where we had to rake leaves I was 11 and the satisfaction I got from it was beyond measure. Just have fun and make the memory because why not?
■ Please be sure to check with your local city or county office before burning your leaves. There are some rules and regulations to be followed and keep in mind your neighbors and traffic in your area. You could also look into donating your leaves to a green house if they take them or a friend/neighbor who might find them useful. Let’s have a fantastic fall.