Every Fall season begs the question, what to do with all those leaves?
The simplest answer can be to let them be. Leaves are packed with nutrients and will eventually put those nutrients back into the soil as they break down naturally over winter. The blanket of leaves will provide a habitat for all the living creatures living below, and the leaves will insulate the ground from the effects of winter.
But for many of us, we need other options due to HOA rules, neighborhood etiquette, or avoiding leaf cover blanketing turf. For those of us that are accustomed to raking leaves into piles, we know it can seem to be an endless Fall activity, but there are alternatives that can provide benefits to our leaf collection efforts.
One option is to mow over the leaves and mulch them into the soil. Smaller in size, this leaf litter can provide our lawns with organic nutrients while minimizing the effects of blocking our lawns from the precious sunlight. This option is entirely dependent on how many trees we are managing in our landscape, but provides a solid alternative to removing them from our property and utilizing them to deliver nature's bounty back to the soil. While humans are now working hard these days to recycle our organic waste, truth is, it has been fundamental to nature since plants first emerged on the Earth. There is a reason that forests thrive despite no fertilizer, watering, or care from us. They shed their leaves in the Fall; these leaves break down and provide nutrients for the next growing cycle.
However, most homeowners must contend with several trees shedding their leaves this time of year. Depending on our circumstances, gathering and removing leaf litter might be the only option. In this case, we recommend composting them!
If you are not composting at home, don't worry. If you bag your leaves (in paper bags) and set them out on the curb for collection or blow them to the curb for municipal collection, there is a good chance they might be coming to a commercial composter like us to be composted. If you don’t have collection at your disposal, you can brown bag them and bring them to most of our facilities (CLICK HERE for acceptance and fees by location).
After transport to a commercial composting facility, they are ground, monitored for moisture levels and temperature, and turned occasionally to introduce oxygen into the mix. Aerobic microbes that thrive in the right conditions for composting do not emit methane, a greenhouse gas, whereas dumping any organic waste in a landfill has the process managed by anaerobic microbes (without oxygen) that do. The process of composting is a win for the environment, not to mention a win when we have the final product to add to our landscapes as a nutrient-rich soil amendment: compost! The good news is that you might be playing a part in the leaf composting process, whether you know it or not!
We also process leaves into leaf mulch. After grinding and aging, leaf mulch provides a great addition to vegetable gardens, providing cover to help retain moisture, suppress weeds, and add organic content to the soil. In the Spring, you can obtain leaf mulch for your garden from our Valley Park, Belleville, Florissant, and Pacific facilities.
But what if you wanted a more active role in leaf composting, say, doing it at home? There are significant benefits to composting at home. In addition to processing your leaves, you can process your food scraps from the kitchen, keeping them out of the trash (and avoiding that methane thing). Many area gardeners do just that, grinding their leaves with a lawn mower, gathering and accessing the pile when they need to add "browns" to their compost pile or tumbler. Composting requires a combination of browns, like leaves and sticks, with greens, grass clippings, and food waste. If you are more interested in this option, please see our blog on home composting by CLICKING HERE.
And there you have it, a few options for your leaf litter. Whatever direction you decide to take, the good news is if it works for you, you'll have an opportunity to practice your solution for as long as you have trees shedding their leaves in the Fall. And if you compost, you have access to nature's wonderful soil amendment for your garden every year.