5 Ways To Better Use Your Fallen Leaves This Autumn

Because bagging them up and throwing them away is just pointless, so I have written here better ways to...

Because bagging them up and throwing them away is just pointless, so I have written here better ways to use your fallen leaves.

Let me just get this out of the way nice and early — autumn is pretty darn awesome. There isn’t the mood-sapping, finger-numbing, garden-wilting misery of winter, nor does it make you wonder how it’s possible for a human being to sweat so much as you hydrate your way through another unexpected, uncomfortable summer heatwave, watching helplessly as your lawn turns fifty shades of yellow. Yeah, like a lot of people, I like autumn. There are days that let you enjoy the great outdoors, weekends where you can get your garden in order, there’s pumpkin-spiced things on sale everywhere and the leaves do that pretty colour-changing thing before they drop from the trees… only for you to have to clear them up. 

But before you do, you have to admit there’s something a bit weird and wrong and unnatural about collecting fallen leaves and stuffing them into black plastic bin liners and sending them off to loiter in landfills… by the millions… for hundreds of years. 

So here’s what I’m suggesting: instead of treating your fallen leaves as rubbish, why not use these leaves to improve your lawn? And that’s exactly what they’ll do (if given the chance) because when leaves start to break down, they give off loads of carbon, which makes them like the greatest compost, mulch and fertiliser ever. So let’s do this shall we:


The All-Important First Step: Shredding

leaf collection

To squeeze every drop of goodness out of your lovely fallen leaves, the trick is to shred them before you unleash them on your turf, something you can do with a) a mulching lawn mower, b) mulching blades on a normal mower, c) a leaf vacuum mulcher or d) nail scissors (*I wouldn’t recommend d) unless you have the patience and time of a Tibetan monk)


Anyway, the reason for shredding them is simple: shredding your leaves is the only way to make sure they completely break down over the cold winter, which is the goal because no one wants to start their spring by raking up leaves that fell in autumn. That and you don’t want you lawn to be covered in big matted leaves because that can lead to disease and pests and possibly the apocalypse. 


Option 1: Compost Your Leaves

composting fallen leaves

Imagine your playing Fantasy Football, except instead of picking players, you’re picking compostable ingredients. Well, the captain of that Dream Team is shredded autumn leaves, every day of the week. This is because your compost pile wants high-in-carbon materials and that’s exactly what fallen leaves are. And to ensure they give you the best results, here’s what you should do:

  1. Create alternating layers of shredded leaves and your normal, everyday green materials in your compost bin (e.g. one layer shredded leaves, one layer vegetable scraps, one layer shredded leaves, one layer grass clippings and so on). 
  2. Let your compost pile sit and do its thing over the winter. 
  3. Aerate (or just turn) your compost pile a bit whenever you remember to and, voila, you’ll have the most delicious compost when it comes round to spring.


Option 2: Make Some Mulch

turn leaves into mulch

Once you’ve shredded your leaves with anything but your nail clippers, they’re immediately ready to be used as an organic mulch, which you can use liberally wherever you like: your veggie patch, your allotment, your flower beds, around any trees or shrubbery you quite like, that sort of place. And it’s easy to do too: simply add a layer of shredded leaves that’s around two-and-a-half inches thick and you’re ready to reap the benefits. 


The reason for doing this is it’s super-good for your soil. Really-really super-good because your homemade mulch will help your soil retain its moisture, keep it cool when the sun’s out (and warm when it’s not) and limit the chances of any weed seeds germinating. And that’s not all because as your leaves begin breaking down, they’ll start adding valuable nutrients to the soil, while attracting earthworms and other microorganisms to come make your soil fluffier than a can of diet whipped cream. 


Option 3: Leaf Mould, Please

collecting fallen leaves

OMG! What’s not to love about leaf mould? Nothing. The answer is absolutely nothing. It’s just the most ludicrously great little pick-me-up for your soil, and it’s made from nothing but fall leaves and a little sprinkling of compost. That’s all there is to it. After that, you just let your leaf mould stew for about a year and then, when it’s done stewing, you’ll be left with the perfect soil amendment to use on your lawn turf, your veggie patches, flower pots, anywhere. It’s what the French would call incroyablé


Option 4: Be A Leaf Hoarder

raking the leaves

I know, I know — you made a promise to never become a hoarder after visiting Auntie Sandra’s house for the first time. But hoarding doesn’t have to be all creepy china dolls and unhealthy car boot addictions. In fact it can be really healthy, but only if we’re talking about hoarding fallen leaves. 


Now, if you don’t want to see another leaf ever again, we get it; autumn leaf collecting can do that to a person. But when spring finally comes back around – and you’re out in the garden hand combatting the heck out of your weeds and pulling the heads of this and pruning that – you’ll find yourself adding an awful lot of greenery to your compost pile with no brown compost materials to help break them down. That’s where leaf hoarding comes in, and it’s the only time I’ll pull a Robert DeNiro face and nod my head in appreciation to anyone bagging leaves. That shows good forward-thinking, and it will help you make another batch of perfect compost. 


Option 5: Mowing Makes Sense

Mow the lawn - but not when wet

Say the words: “mowing leaves”. Close your eyes. What do you picture? Probably the simplest solution to your leaf problem, and one that involves absolutely zero raking whatsoever. It’s freaking perfect, especially given there is no scientific reasons for anyone to rake up all the leaves that fall on their lawn (and we’re talking about real science here, not the sort of science Trump makes up). 


All you’ve got to do is start up your mower, adopt your normal mowing strategy, mow the leaves as you go and take pleasure in knowing that will be enough for them to break down over the winter, providing your soil with all the nutrients and protection it could want or need. And if you do this once a week until the trees have finally finished shedding their leaves, you’ll get through the whole of autumn without once rummaging through your shed trying to find a rake. Awesome.


Of course, to make sure this works properly, and your lawn starts to feel much healthier because of it, you really need to use a mulching mower. Thankfully, most modern mowers have the ability to mulch (which basically means recirculating the grass clippings and fallen leaves until they are cut into small shreds that can be left instead of bagged) so you don’t need to worry about Youtubing videos on “How to convert my mower into a mulcher.”


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