Make the most of these wonderful autumn leaves in Western New York

street trees in autumn in Western New York by Stofko
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
Place your dry leaves on the driveway before you crunch them up with your lawn mower. It will be easier to scoop up the crunched bits. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

This has been a gorgeous autumn with a wonderful display of autumn leaves. Now that those leaves are falling, let’s put them to use.

Crunch them for compost or mulch

If you have a lawn mower with a bag on it, it’s easy for you to crunch up and collect your fallen leaves.

If you don’t have a bag, rake your leaves onto a concrete or asphalt driveway, then go over them with the lawnmower. That makes it a lot easier to collect the crunched up bits. (The leaves need to be dry.) If you try to do it on the lawn, the crunched up bits will fall into the grass and be almost impossible to retrieve.

Once you have the leaves crunched up, you can add them to your compost pile. Small bits will break up more quickly than whole leaves.

If you don’t have a compost pile, start one now. You don’t need anything fancy; an old garbage can will do. If you use a garbage can with a tight-fitting lid, you can add kitchen scraps while keeping mice and other pests away. The plant material will break down faster with good air circulation, so to speed up the process, one gardener drilled holes in her composting can.

You can also use those crunched up leaves to mulch around perennials. Heavy mulching will help protect the plants from drying winds and fluctuations in temperature. A nice blanket of snow helps, but especially with El Nino this year, we might not have a constant layer of snow on the ground.

garbage cans with holes used as composter in Buffalo NY
You can use a garbage can as a composter. Drill holes in the can for better air circulation. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

You can use whole leaves for mulching, too.

Use whole leaves to cover herb plants

Caesandra Seawell, garden manager at the garden at City Honors School in Buffalo (also known as Pelion Community Garden) showed us in November 2013 how she used a thick blanket of leaves to insulate their herb gardens. We had had a couple of frosts by then, but the parsley was still green. And despite a very cold winter that year, in May she still had sorrel, red veined dock, rue, oregano and lovage under that thick layer of leaves.

Save some leaves for spring

In spring you may want to lay down a layer of mulch just to keep the weeds down. Leaves are a cheap way to do that. Save as many leaves as you can; you’ll need more than you think.

Preserve those leaves

Autumn leaves are every bit as beautiful as summer flowers. You can preserve leaves using this glycerin method from David Clark, nationally known horticulture teacher. It’s easy to do, the leaves will remain supple and the leaves will be preserved almost indefinitely. You can then use them in flower arrangements.

To get an idea of how to wire the leaves into a bouquet, see this video. And this video will show you how to dry flowers.

Bonus tip: Clark teaches four series of entertaining and informative horticulture classes at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. You can sign up for a whole series or just take a single class. You don’t have to take the classes in any particular order. Seating is limited. Find out more here.

Second bonus tip: David Clark can speak to your garden club or other organization.

trees on street in autum
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Look at the colorful leaves

Let’s end with something we busy gardeners probably don’t do often enough. Take a few moments– or a few hours– to just admire the beauty our autumn leaves.

Pull out your camera and take a few snapshots. Let the leaves crunch beneath your feet. Jump into a big pile of leaves. Breathe in the scent. Feel the sunshine–or the drizzle– on your face.

Appreciate the season.

5 Comments on “Make the most of these wonderful autumn leaves in Western New York

  1. I used saved leaves in planters. They cover the hole, retain moisture in the soil and leach nutrients helping feed the annuals.

  2. It is a great time to pause and enjoy the color. I have a mulching mower and it grinds them in place. Like nature intended…the goodness stays put.

  3. Is composting grass along with the mulched leaves the wrong thing to do? My lawnmower picks up both.

  4. Sharon, you can compost grass. However, if your grass got very long in between mowings and has gone to seed, don’t put that in your compost pile. Your compost pile probably won’t get hot enough to kill the seeds, and when you spread your compost on your garden, grass will sprout from the seeds. As Donna mentioned in her comment, you can also leave grass clippings and bits of crunched up leaves on your lawn. It’s good for your lawn. But if you have a lot of leaves in your yard, or can get more leaves from your neighbors, you should have enough to use on your gardens, too.

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