Kansas Healthy Yards Videos        
 Transforming Leaves from Trash to Treasure


Story:
Each fall, nature rewards us with a bounty of leaves. We’re left to wonder what to do with them. Do we rake? Do we bag? In this day and age when landfill space is getting tight, we should think about those leaves not necessarily being trash, but think about them as being a treasure.
 
Leaves have multiple uses in the home landscape. We need to get them out of the yard, so that they don’t shade out the grass over the winter months – to keep it healthy. You can collect the leaves by raking. Or, my favorite way of picking up the leaves is by vacuuming or sucking them up in the lawn mower.
 
Once you’ve picked them up, there are a few options for disposing the leaves. One way is to work them back into the soil. If you have an open space in your vegetable or flower garden, you can spade in a good four to six inches of shredded leaves that naturally break down and decompose over the winter months in the garden. They’ll break down a lot faster when there is good moisture in the soil. So if it’s a dry winter, you’ll need to water to help break the leaves down. Then, in the spring, you’ll need to rake and you’ll have that organic matter to help loosen up our clay soils.
 
We can also use the leaves as a mulch. The leaves can be added this fall, or stockpiled to use next spring. A good layer of mulch is about three to four inches to cover the bare soil. The advantages of mulch is that it helps cool the soil, conserves moisture, controls weeds, and it keeps competition from other plants away from your desirable plants, so they’ll grow bigger and stronger.
 
Another great way to dispose leaves is to compost them. A compost pile isn’t difficult to build, and shredded leaves break down relatively quickly when using all the proper steps to composting.
 
So, in summary, leaves work great when incorporated into the soil to improve it, as mulch, or in a compost pile. And one other tip with your leaves – try to keep them out of the street and gutters. They tend to wash down into the storm sewers and drains, which can cause problems with water quality. So, do your best to get your leaves picked up from the lawn, and then use them to your advantage in the landscape.
 
This feature story prepared with Dennis Patton, Kansas State University Research and Extension Horticulture Agent, Johnson County. For more information, visit your local county extension office or visit our website at KansasGreenYards.org.