Reminder: How to use all those great autumn leaves in WNY

by Connie Oswald Stofko

fallen autumn leaves in Amherst NY
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Those autumn leaves are gold for your garden. Here are some of the ways you can use them.

Help your lawn

When you mow your grass, chop up the leaves as you go. Those bits of chopped leaves are good for your lawn– they return nutrients to the soil. See this short video from Cornell School of Integrated Plant Science.

Compost leaves

Adding leaves to your compost pile will help your kitchen scraps break down more quickly.

Chopping up your leaves will speed up the process even more.

A lawn mower with a bag is great because you can chop and capture the leaves at the same time. Some electric leaf vacuums will chop the leaves and bag them at the same time. You can also rake up the leaves and chop them with a standing electric leaf mulcher.

If you don’t have any of those tools, rake the leaves onto your asphalt or concrete driveway and run them over with the lawn mower. The tiny bits of leaves will fall on the asphalt and you can sweep up.

All of these techniques work best if the leaves are dry. If your leaves are wet, place them in a paper yard bag and set them in a dry place, such as your garage. If you’re lucky, they will eventually dry and you can chop them this fall, but it may take until spring.

Bonus tip: Ask your neighbors for their jack-o’-lanterns for your compost, too. Or keep a bin in your car so you can collect discarded pumpkins you see along your route.

Here’s something random: I had the pleasure of talking about composting with my friend Judy Clark on her new podcast Judy Clark After Dark. Check it out.

Mulch perennials

Use leaves as mulch around your perennials now to help make sure the roots don’t heave up out of the ground. It’s especially important when we don’t have snow cover.

Sometimes your perennials are planted closely together and the leaves are lying on top of the plants. In that case, use a broom to work the leaves between the plants. See more here.

Extend the growing season

You can extend the season by covering them with leaves or using a grow tunnel.

Use leaves to make a path

Making a path with leaves instead of wood chips saves a lot of money. It has worked for me.

I have also used corn stalks on my path, which generous neighbors gave me last year when they took down their elaborate Halloween display.

Get enough leaves for all these projects

Did you know that some people actually work to get rid of their leaves? It’s true!

If your next-door neighbors are going to rake their leaves off their lawn all the way to the curb, ask them if they’ll rake them into your yard instead.

Some people rake their leaves up, place them in bags and set them out to the curb. That’s right–they package up the leaves and offer curbside pickup! Yes, you’re allowed to take them!


5 Comments on “Reminder: How to use all those great autumn leaves in WNY

  1. Hello everyone! If you’ve ever wanted a sneak peek of Connie’s garden, here’s your chance! Watch the video she mentioned above. She is 100% authentic in her love of nature, gardening, and protector of the environment. Connie really does what she recommends and you can see how successful her tips really are. Spoiler alert- her garden is beautiful!

  2. Hi Linda. For information on whether it’s okay to use maple leaves with tar spot in your compost, see this article. I also just found this reference from Cornell that says it’s okay to compost leaves of Norway maples that have tar spot. It’s okay as long as those leaves are not exposed to air at the top of the pile the following spring when they would be releasing their spores.

    I’ll see what I can find out about chestnut fungus.

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