Fall in Georgia took me by surprise last year. I spent most of my life in Wyoming and Colorado where I could usually gather enough leaves for one good jump and a nice addition to the compost pile. The majority of trees are Evergreens and a jump in the Pine needle pile is not worth the time it takes to rake them up. Fall clean-up in Georgia is an entirely different matter. As far as the eye can see (which isn’t far because of all the trees) are Deciduous forests. The slightest breeze fills the surrounding air with hundreds of leaves to the point that you can actually hear fall.
When the first layer of leaves fell in Georgia I raked them up like I always do and started carting them out back. Within a week, the yard was still covered in leaves and the compost pile was taller than I was. Realizing my neighbors might not be as excited about the growing pile of yard waste I planned to let rot at the top of the hill, I submitted to letting the city haul the rest off, 50 gallons at a time. Not this year. I’ve found 10 ways to recycle the fall leaves and keep them where nature put them- my house. If you would like to do the same…
Add as much to your compost pile as space allows or your compost pile can handle. In order for your pile to break down quickly, it is important to provide just the right balance of brown and green materials. Fall leaves count as brown material and ideally make up about 30 parts to each 1 part green material such as kitchen waste or grass clippings.
Save Some Bags
You can save some in bags and add it to your kitchen waste over the winter to maintain the balance in your compost or for mulch in the spring. Shredding the leaves first will allow you to fit 10 times more leaves in the bag and also decomposes faster giving you more leaf mold which is a fabulous mulch.
Protect Your Soil
Put a 2-3 inch layer over the garden to protect your soil from compacting during heavy rains and prevent the weeds from growing. (This works best with mulched leaves that also quickly add organic matter to the soil.) Make sure to keep the mulch from touching the stems and trunks of your plants.
Create Organic Fertilizer
When you are down to the final scatter of leaves on the lawn, run them over with a lawn mower or use a mulcher and you have organic lawn fertilizer.
Protect Your Plants
Use them to insulate tender plants from the upcoming cold.
Make a lasagna garden. Alternate layers of leaves, shredded newspaper, peat, and pine needles with layers of greens such as kitchen waste and grass clipping. Use twice as much leaves as anything else until you have a two foot layered bed. By spring, you have a nutrient rich plot to plant.
Have Fun with the Kids
Kids love leaves. If you have young children, leaves are a remarkable source of entertainment and educational opportunities. You can make leaf prints, imprints, rubbings, collages, leaf treasure hunts, or just swish in them. Using leaves teaches children about texture, one of the 7 art elements.
Leaf art is for grownups too. Make prints on clay pots, pin small leaves to candles, make a scarecrow, or any number of simple projects to commemorate the season.
Pile up bags of dry leaves along the side of any building that needs added insulation. Not only will you save money on heating costs through the winter, you can use them for mulch in the spring.
Give Them Away
If you simply cannot make use of all of the leaves, check locally for a pick-up option through either the city or local organizations. Many of us are lucky enough to have a city composting facility and if you don’t- you can likely find someone who would be more than happy to take Fall’s gift to soil off your hands.
Angela Lundmark is an avid outdoor and indoor gardener and freelance writer.