By- Marianna Quartararo
Autumn leaves are the season’s most abundant crop. So pretty… until you have to rake them up and then what to do with them? Leaves are the main ingredient of the dark, rich, humus or organic matter that develops on the forest floor over time. Organic matter increases the movement of air, water and nutrients through the soil. If you can, make a pile in an area out of the way for the insects! Many insects, moths and some butterflies overwinter in fallen leaves either as adults or as pupae. Late spring/ early summer you can use them in one of the ways below.
DO NOT rake leaves into waterways (lakes, streams, wetlands, etc.). This will increase the nutrient load in the waterway contributing to algae blooms and vegetation growth.
There are many ways to utilize this valuable resource:
- Don’t rake them up. Run them over with the lawn mower! Cutting them into smaller pieces and leaving them on the lawn will improve the soil as well as release nutrients back into the soil.
- Rake them into a pile and shred them with the mower to produce leaf mulch. Or place the leaves in a plastic garbage can and use a string trimmer to shred the leaves. Use the shredded leaves to mulch your flower and vegetable gardens.
- You can put them aside in a pile to break down into the wonderful stuff we call leaf mold. Shred them first to hasten the process. Use in the spring to improve your soil or as a mulch.
- Place leaves in large black garbage bags and leave by your compost bin. When you need to add carbon-rich “brown stuff” to your compost pile, just open the bag and add a layer to the compost bin. Again, it is better if they are shredded.
- Start a new garden bed. Pile the shredded leaves over the area where you wish to start a garden. You can surround the area with a temporary fence or cover with newspapers or cardboard weighted down with rocks so nothing blows away over the winter. In a year or two, you can dig planting holes where needed and add a layer of mulch.
- Set up a worm bin. Add leaves in addition to newspaper to feed the worms.
Pike County Conservation District is committed to the long-term protection and sustainable use of Pike County’s natural resources. Accomplished through partnership, education, technical assistance, planning, enforcement, and leadership. Marianna Quartararo is a resource conservationist for the Pike County Conservation District.