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How to Dispose of Leaves by Mulching or Composting

How to Dispose of Leaves by Mulching or CompostingAutumn leaves are beautiful, but disposing of them after they’ve fallen can be an ugly task. Burning leaves is illegal in many localities, and doing so is wasteful. You can stuff leaves in the trash, but that fills up your bins quickly. Your best option, then, is mulching, followed closely by composting.

Creating mulch from fallen leaves

Adding organic matter to your lawn, planters, garden and flowerbeds by mulching is the easiest way to get greener grass and healthier plants. Mulch slows the evaporation of water from the ground. It also improves the quality of soil by creating an environment in which earthworms and beneficial organisms thrive.

lawn mowerUse a self-propelled walk-behind lawn mower or a lawn tractor equipped with mulching blades and without a bagger attachment to chop up the leaves and let them disappear into the grass. This keeps whole leaves from forming a mat that grass blades have difficulty breaking through. At the same time, shredded leaves rot more quickly to form a layer of insulation and nutrients for grass roots throughout the winter.

leaf blowerMower mulching also keeps your yard looking neatly groomed by reducing leaf volume up to 90 percent. If you mow once a week during the fall, leaves never build up. Make sure you don’t waste any potential mulch by using a leaf blower to clear leaves from your driveway and patio and push them onto your lawn before mowing.

To collect mulched leaves for use in planters and gardens, reattach the bagger to your lawn mower. During the spring and summer, keep in mind that finely chopped grass clippings also serve as invisible fertilizer for your lawn.

Make compost

Leaves, kitchen waste and garden trimmings can be converted into nutrients for your garden. A simple way to do this, called hot composting, is to pile the organic material inside a hoop of chicken wire about 4 feet in diameter. You can also use a specially designed composting bin that makes turning the mixture to aerate it easier while improving the appearance of your yard.

Make sure to keep a hot compost pile moist and to turn it once a week. You need a pitchfork for aerating the pile if it is not in a rotating container. The enclosed pile generates heat as the organic material breaks down. Turning spreads that heat, which prevents fires, while also introducing air that speeds decay.

The alternative to hot composting–called, naturally, cold composting–involves creating small piles of leaves, kitchen scraps and yard and garden clippings throughout your yard. Not being enclosed, cold compost piles take longer to break down their contents.

When building either kind of compost pile, alternate layers of “brown” material such as leaves and “green” material such as fruit and vegetable peels. Do not include meat or dairy in your compost, because those items attract animal life. Also, especially while building cold compost piles, leave out noxious weeds that might spread when compost is distributed.

- Janet Grischy


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