By Katie Marks, Networx
The hills are alive with color this time of year, so much so that some people are even taking road trips to check out the beautiful yellows, oranges, and reds. And they definitely do look gorgeous, but there's a downside, which anyone who owns a deciduous tree is already well aware of: what turns gold must fall down. All those leaves end up in a big messy pile under the trees, and while that's great in the forest, where they enrich the soil and crunch delightfully under your feet as you traipse through the woods, it is not so wonderful when it's your landscaping.
Whether they're slowly moldering into the lawn, blowing up against windows, cars, and household pets, or just looking unsightly, most homeowners want their leaves out of the way as soon as they fall. In some communities, a neighborhood association might require people to manage their leaves in the interest of keeping the community looking neat and tidy, which means that while you might have enjoyed the change of color in the early fall, now your weekends are going to be consumed with disposing of all those pesky things.
Don't panic! Fortunately, there are a lot of leaf management options in mind, and not all of them involve shoving errant leaves into plastic bags and piling them up on the lawn. (In fact, some municipalities charge extra for leaf pickup or ask people to get extra greenwaste bins because of concerns about excessive yard waste.)
Let's start with the obvious: a little bit of maintenance on a frequent basis will help you control leaves much more easily than letting them pile up and trying to tackle them all at once. And, just as in the forest, leaves are a fantastic carbon sink. They will enrich the soil and improve conditions in your garden, if you let them.
As the leaves start falling, use your lawnmower to manage them. Sound bizzare? As you mow the lawn, you'll chop up the leaves, and effectively turn them into mulch. The broken-up pieces will work their way into the lawn, where they will have lots of oxygen and beneficial microorganisms to break them down quickly and enrich the soil for a healthier lawn. Make sure to wear face protection so you don't inhale dust or debris while you do this.
There will come a point, however, when the leaf situation is too big for simple mulching directly into the lawn. Now, you'll need to start using a mower with a mulch attachment. The lawnmower will chop the leaves and deposit the mulch directly into a bag, giving you ready-made fantastic leafy mulch. You can work it into the vegetable beds you've cleared for the fall and winter, and pack it around ornamentals and fragile plants that you want to help out so they can survive through the rough weather ahead.
Once you've mulched everything you can, you can start building up your compost. As a carbon-rich compostable, leaves go in to balance the "greens" in your compost. They'll add not just air but oxygenation, because their texture resists compression and creates lots of air pockets for good bacteria in the compost along with fungi and other friendly organisms. You can also choose to create a leaf pile compost, one that just contains leaves.
A container for leaf composting is recommended to keep it organized. As leaf mulch and raked leaves (yet, inevitably your lawn mower will not be up to the task, sorry) add up, you can layer them in the leaf pile. It shouldn't need any additions, except for water if it's extremely dry and some high-nitrogen fertilizer if you want to encourage breakdown. It takes around nine months for leaf compost to totally break down, which conveniently is just about enough time for you to need the clear the space again for the next year's crop of leaves.
While you can use a leaf blower to manage leaves, it can be disruptive to the neighborhood, in addition to producing polluting emissions. You might want to consider an alternative like sweeping or raking small amounts of leaves on a regular basis, and if you really have to resort to a blower, remember to use it after 10am but before 5pm, out of respect for people in the community who may be sleeping or having dinner guests. (If your neighbor works night shifts, you may want to adjust accordingly.)
If you set aside ten to fifteen minutes for leaf management at least once a week, hopefully your fall will go much more smoothly!