Here are some quick  environmentally friendly suggestions for using some of your leaves instead of bagging, blowing or raking all of them to the curb for pick-up. This will not only save you time and  money, but reduce noise and air pollution, improve your physical health, and most importantly, benefit wildlife and plants. Please read the funny story at the end called “GOD AND ST. FRANCIS HAVE A CONVERSATION”. 

  1. Throw leaves into your compost pile. You can chop some of them up first to speed up decomposition especially if they are large or thick like Sycamore or Oak leaves. Shred the leaves by passing  a mower over a separate leaf pile several times or install the bag that came with your lawn mower to capture and chop leaves. Leaf mold (another name for composted leaves) makes wonderful mulch, vegetable garden amendment, and  has several uses in organic lawn care. I sprinkle leaf mold on my lawn instead of fertilizing.
  2. Most importantly, rake or leave some of your fallen leaves (and fallen twigs) around trees, shrubs and woodland perennials. This is the way nature mulches!   If possible, do not chop most of your  leaves to protect overwintering insects (see below) and other small animals which seek shelter or use fallen leaves to find food or nesting material. Leaves also provide organic matter, moisture, and some weed control similar to mulch. Take a few moments of observation and you’ll see how important leaves are for wildlife, especially birds, butterflies and amphibians. 
    Bee in spring in dead plant material

    What woud happen to this bee if I cleanup everything this spring?

    BTW: I do not rake leaves into my prairie garden because I do a prescribed burn each spring. Read more about my prescribed burn in Preparing for the arrival of the  Red Buffalo. 

  3. Chop up a light layer of fall leaves on your lawn with a lawn mower several times and leave in place to enrich your lawn.
  4. Rake leaves around a grouping of potted native perennials or shrubs  to add  an insulation layer over winter.
  5. Use leaves to smother areas of lawn to create a new garden areas  by piling them 2-3′ deep over layers of black and white newspaper and  enclosing with chicken wire fencing to prevent leaves from blowing away.  I used this method to create my new vegetable garden in an area that was once lawn.
  6. Here are 2 easy craft leaf projects I developed when I led an after school environmental club.  Project 1:  Press various types of leaves between 2 heavy books lined with paper towels for 2 weeks, and use the pressed leaves to create name cards or decorations for your Thanksgiving table.  Use gold or silver permanent marker to write guests’ names on the pressed leaves.  Project 2 : collect leaves of all different shapes and colors, then after pressing them using the method above, glue them onto a 2′ diameter by 6 inch wide circular cardboard wreath cut from a rigid box.  Make sure to cover the cardboard completely with leaves .Then hang the leaf wreath. Beautiful! Craft projects are great opportunities to  discuss why some leaves fall or change color.   USDA Why leaves Change color? Got any easy leaf projects you want to share? Add to comments below.
  7. Rake your leaves instead of blowing them if you are physically able to do this or use an electric mower or blower (less noise and air pollution than gas powered equipments).  Also, do not rake leaves into nearby waterways (rivers, lakes, streams, drainage pipes, etc). The excess volume of decaying leaves can reduce oxygen levels in our waterways, harming aquatic species.
  8. Have fun!!! Toss the leaves around,  enjoy the sound of walking through the leaves, and jump into a pile!
Mother Nature doesn't rake up her leaves.

Mother Nature doesn’t rake up her leaves.Why do we?

Here’s a humorous story I received many years ago from a friend. I did not write this but I don’t know the author.  Enjoy!

GOD AND ST. FRANCIS HAVE A CONVERSATION 

GOD: “Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is happening down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought, and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey-bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors and all I see are these green rectangles.
ST. FRANCIS: It’s the tribes that settled there Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But it’s boring. It’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies and bees; only grubs and sodworms. It’s sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing down there?

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so,Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably makes the grass grow fast. That must maker the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little they cut it, sometimes twice a week.

GOD: They cut it? Do they bale it like hay?

ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS: No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD: Now let me get this straight. They fertilize the grass so it will grow. And then they cut if off and pay to throw it away?

ST. FRANCIS: Yes Sir.

GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows down the growth and saves them a lot of work.

ST. FRANCIS: You aren’t going to believe this, Lord…when the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD: What nonsense! At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground to and provide a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It’s a natural cycle of life.

ST FRANCIS: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle .
As soon as the leaves have fallen, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD: No! What do they do to protect the the shrub and tree roots in the winter to deep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away all the leaves, the go out and buy something called mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD: And where do they get this mulch?

ST FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make mulch.

GOD: Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for tonight?

SDT. CATHERINE: ‘Dumb And Dumber’ Lord, it’s a story about………

GOD: Never mind. I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.”