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Leaves Q&A

Leaves Q&A

By Pat Curran, Horticulture Educator,
Tompkins County Cornell Cooperative Extension
(Originally published November 2010)

Question: What can I do with all my leaves? Leaf bags are getting to be rather expensive.

Answer: There are several different ways to cope, depending on the quantity of leaves and the size of your yard. If you have a mulching mower, and the leaves are not too deep, you can just mow the lawn and leave the chewed up leaves on the lawn. Recent research has indicated the result is fewer dandelions! However, the leaves mustn't be too deep. If the leaves are deeper, you can also use your mower to collect them in the mower bag. The ground-up leaves can then be spread under shrubs or trees as a mulch (remember, not too deep, and not touching the tree trunk), used around perennial plants, or spread over the bare soil of the veggie garden.

Leaves are a wonderful component to use in making compost. Bags of dry leaves can be stored for use as the brown layer (and the bags re-used).

Large quantities of leaves can also be composted separately, and don't have to be ground up. I have a separate compost bin for leaves. Although I don't have the time to actively manage this leaf pile, the leaves break down within a year or two, to produce 'leaf mould', an absolutely wonderful soil amendment which is all I use now. I incorporate the rotten leaves into the veggie garden, and any pockets of less-rotten leaves just get pushed to the side and used later to mulch the veggies. I also use the rotten leaves as a topdressing around perennials. Some advantages of using rotten leaves to increase the organic matter in the soil (instead of manure) include fewer weed seeds and no chance of 'burning' plants, as can happen with manure that hasn't been composted long enough.

If you have a small yard and none of these alternatives work for you, I would suggest calling up some gardening friends with more space, who may welcome your donated leaves!

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