9 Low-Maintenance Ideas for Fall Leaf Removal
There’s no question that fall leaves are beautiful — when they’re on the trees. But ultimately those leaves end up on the ground, which means work. Make the most of your leaves with the least amount of effort this fall by using these easy-going ideas.
Save Leaves for Art Projects
Consider using leaves to stuff scarecrows or yard figures for Halloween. Or, take beautifully colored leaves that have fallen at the peak of their color and preserve them in craft projects. There are many, many creative leaf projects available online, like making a colorful seasonal wreath, fall foliage centerpiece, or leaf decoupage.
Use Leaves For Mulch
Probably the fastest and easiest way to deal with leaves is to use them as a DIY mulch. Simply rake small leaves directly onto your planting beds. If your leaves are larger, it’s best to chop them before applying. Just like other mulches, avoid piling leaves up against shrub or tree trunks. Leave some space around the stems for airflow.
Let Them Offer Shelter
If possible, allow leaves to collect and stay in planting beds and beneath shrubs to provide protection for beneficial insects. The leaves can stay there until frosty weather is over, and the warmth of spring awakens the insects to crawl or fly out of their shelter to start a new life cycle.
Blow Leaves Away
If clearing leaves from decks, walks, driveways and other hardscapes is your goal, then you need a leaf blower. Pick a model that includes a leaf vac function and you can gather and chop leaves as well. Otherwise, blow the leaves onto the lawn and then chop them with the mower or distribute them into planting beds for mulch.
Add Leaf Layer to Planting Beds
A simple way to improve the soil of a new planting bed, vegetable garden or dedicated planting space for annuals is to add a leaf layer. Chopping the leaves for this purpose is recommended, however if you must add whole leaves, be sure to cover them with shredded bark mulch or straw to keep them from blowing away. In the spring, use a tiller, digging fork or broad-fork to break up the leaves before planting.
Rake Them Up
Admittedly, raking is probably the toughest way to remove leaves. It works best in small spaces, like planting beds or compact yards. If raking is part of your leaf removal plan, be sure to get an ergonomic rake that is lightweight and designed to take the strain off your back. Choose a rake suitable for your situation — a wide rake head works well for lawn areas while smaller rakes help reach under shrubs or in tight planting beds. In addition, there are several options available for hauling raked leaves away, such as pop-up leaf hauling containers, or bendable tarps.
Try to rake the leaves when they are dry, as opposed to wet and matted. Also, during the winter when the ground is frozen, it’s not a good idea to walk on frozen grass as it can damage the grass crowns, so consider using a leaf blower instead and stay off the grass as much as possible.
Chop Up Leaves for Compost
Another way to dispose of fallen leaves is to compost them and create organic matter for your garden. Organic matter helps with moisture retention, soil aeration, and even fights plant disease. Nothing builds healthy garden soil that grows strong, productive plants better than organic matter.
When composting leaves, it’s important to know that leaves break down at different rates depending on their thickness. For example, thicker leaves like oak or magnolia can take up to two years to break down, while thinner leaves like dogwood or birch only take a few months. Chopping leaves before adding them to the compost pile can speed up decomposition. It also keeps them from creating a waterproof surface as they become clumped and matted together. This is a problem often seen with sycamore, tulip poplar, maple and other larger leaves.
So, the inevitable question is: What’s the quickest and easiest way to chop an entire lawn full of leaves? Mowing them is the answer. Simply use your mower’s grass catcher to harness the chopped leaves and empty it into your compost bin. For areas that are small, a leaf vac works well. Be sure to wear eye protection and a dust mask, as chopping leaves is a dusty and dirty task.
Make Leaf Mold
If you want to feed your garden a nutrient and mineral-rich resource, then recycle your leaves into your garden. It makes sense since, on average, trees store up to 80 percent of their minerals and nutrients in leaves. One way to preserve those nutrients for garden use is making leaf mold (another type of organic matter). Leaf mold is what makes the ground feel spongy when you take a walk in the woods. It actually acts like a sponge, holding 300 to 500 percent of its own weight in water, and makes a great mulch.
To make the leaf mold, use the same system you would for chopping leaves, but stuff them into a bin of some sort (a cylinder of wire fencing or chicken wire works well) or black garbage bags. As you fill the container, pack the leaves down. When full, wet the leaves. Then, seal the bags, poke holes to provide airflow, and stack them in a spot in the yard where they won’t be in the way. Every six months, flip the bags over, and in 12 to 18 months watch for finished leaf mold. It will appear as small, flaky, brown pieces.
Recycle in Community
For those not into gardening or yard work, consider offering your bagged leaves to neighbors who are. You can also try contacting your local township or county to see if they have facilities to pick up and compost your leaves for community use.