When the leaves start to fall in autumn, most homeowners rake them, place them in bags, and let the yard trash people take them off. When I lived in the country, I dumped them into a huge pit and burned them, but I had enough to spare. For those who aren’t allowed to have compost piles or bins, it can be rather sad having to dispose of all that potential organic matter, but maybe you don’t have to. There are ways to compost or recycle your leaves so they don’t go to waste.
Direct-Composting Your Leaves
When I wasn’t allowed to build a compost pile, I used direct composting to amend my horrible Florida marl soil. Over 15 years, that fill-dirt dump site became the richest spot in my yard.
Direct composting is simply digging out a trench in your yard, filling it with leaves, watering well, and covering them with soil. If you have a mound of soil on top, it will flatten out as the leaves decompose. The soil will sift down into the leaves with the rain or snow and create rich soil for spring planting.
I had a backyard vegetable garden, and even though we could garden all year long, I dug leaves into that spot before I planted the season’s crop. That sandy soil is now humus-rich and crumbly. Consider building new raised beds in the fall, filling with leaves and topping off with soil. Water well and cover with a tarp to have them ready for spring planting.
Chopping Leaves With the Lawnmower
Chopped leaves decompose faster because of their cut surfaces and are less bulky than whole leaves. Chopped leaves can be hidden under bark or pine straw, so they are unseen. I used to have an old blender that I used to grind up leaves. I would put chopped leaves into the blender with water and grind them, then use them as an economical replacement for peat moss in homemade potting mix.
Did you know you can compost in black plastic bags? Of course, it takes a lot of heat, so if you live in a northern climate, you may have to stash the bags in a garage or shed over the winter. Leaves that have been mowed over at least once compost faster. Fill the bag with leaves; sprinkle some yard soil, a handful of nitrogen fertilizer, and a package of yeast over the leaves; shake it up; water lightly; and place in a warm location. If placed in a warm garage, they can decompose somewhat over the winter, but will still need more time to decompose fully.
Give Your Leaves Away
If you have no way to do any of the above and you can’t stand having your leaves go into a landfill, give them away. I got many bags of leaves from neighbors’ curbs. In our city, we had to use paper leaf bags, which were not cheap, so I offered to save and return the bags if neighbors saved their leaves for me. No one ever turned me down, and I had plenty of great soil amendment and compost for my yard. Sites like Freecycle and Craigslist are wonderful for finding people to take your leaves. Some will rake your yard to get them. I’ve raked yards for pine straw for my azaleas.
It’s sad that some cities still don’t recognize the importance of returning leaves to the soil, but many of us live in those cities and must do what we can to get around those ordinances. Fall leaves are one of nature’s greatest gifts, so use them wisely, or give them to someone who will.
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