5 Ways to Recycle Fall Leaves

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A distinct characteristic of the fall season is the annual shedding of tree leaves. While these falling leaves actually serve a practical purpose for trees, they can become an annoyance to many homeowners who try their best to keep lawns nice and tidy. Luckily, homeowners have plenty of options at their disposal -- besides throwing them in the garbage can -- when dealing with the blanket of dead leaves that fall every autumn. In fact, as this guide shows there are a number of creative ways to recycle fall leaves.

1. Create Mulch for Your Yard

One reason leaves fall to the ground every autumn is to suppress any competing plants around the root system of the tree. This mass of dead leaves actually contains a high concentration of nutrients that can be very beneficial to plants. With that in mind, you can harness the nutrients held in the leaves by converting them to mulch. However, just gathering the leaves in bunches will not get the job done. Instead, you can create a great mulch blend by cutting the leaves with a mower. A mower with a bag attached will add a good amount of glass clippings, which will add even more nutrients to the blend. Use this combination in flower beds and really anywhere in your yard that could use a nutrient boost.

2. Build Your Compost

Although it takes a little bit of time and work, another way to take advantage of the nutrients hiding in those fallen leaves is to create a compost pile (or bin). Like mulching the leaves, it's best to shred them when creating compost. In order to construct a good compost pile, mix in some green material, like grass clippings, along with the dead leaves. This will help speed up the decomposition. Additionally, you will need some kind of container to hold the mixture, which should be kept moist and turned throughout the year. If done correctly, you will have nutritious soil to add to your garden just as spring rolls around.

3. Lay Down Chicken Bedding

If you raise chickens, then dead leaves can be a great source of bedding. Chickens are known for their scratching, so a thick layer of leaves is a good way to keep the chickens happy and the coop in a reasonably clean state. To accomplish this, gather up the leaves in a large trash bag and keep them in a location that can be kept dry throughout the winter to prevent them from decomposing. As you add layers of leaves for bedding, the leaves will decompose over time. This means you will need to add a new layer of leaves every few weeks. (This mixture of decomposed leaves and droppings can then be used in garden beds for additional plant nutrients.)

4. Accumulate a Leaf Mold

Another method of composting fallen leaves is to use a leaf mold. A leaf mold is similar to compost and produces an end product that is dark in appearance. This mixture tends to crumble easily, contains a bounty of nutrients, and helps to lighten soil beds. To create a leaf mold, simply gather a good amount of dead leaves into a pile and wait until the pile decomposes into compost.

5. Insulate Flower Beds

Because leaves create a thick layered blanket when spread over the ground, they can be used to insulate plants from harsh winter conditions. When the weather starts to get cold, simply bunch up the leaves in and around perennials and shrubs to provide them with some added insulation during colder temperatures. Keep in mind that as the weather begins to warm you will need to rake away those leaves in order for the soil to properly heat up. If you keep the dead leaves in a dry enough location, then you can even use them to guard against those random spring freezes that threaten less mature plants.

Additional Tips

Keep in mind that leaves tend to be a little more acidic than traditional compost materials, so it's always a good idea to monitor pH levels in the soil when adding leaf-based compost. Additionally, try to keep tree seeds out of your mulch as much as possible as these can lead to sprouts in the spring. Lastly, the time it takes to fully decompose dead tree leaves depends on a number of factors, including type of leaf, moisture, air flow, and the mixture of green materials used in the blend.