AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Every fall, most people’s yards are covered in leaves. Many people dispose of them by tossing them out with the trash. Instead of throwing them away, try recycling leaves in your yard this year.
“Recycling leaves either for mulch or as compost for improving soil is a good alternative,” said Taylor Reeder, an Alabama Extension home grounds, garden and home pest regional agent.
Leaves make excellent mulch for outdoor plants and shrubs. Use whole leaves for mulch or reduce their volume to as much as one-tenth the size by shredding or chopping them. Shredded leaves not only take up less space and they also make more uniform mulch. Mulch conserves water, suppresses weeds and moderates fluctuating soil temperatures that can disturb roots.
By fall, when the next batch of leaves is about to drop, the previous year’s mulch will have decomposed almost completely.
Leaves can also be turned into compost. Reeder said that composting is a great way to manage leaves.
“Compost is the natural decomposition of organic waste material under controlled conditions,” Reeder said. “Composting at home saves time and cost of disposing of and transporting leaves, and provides an environmentally sound way to manage leaves.”
If you have a compost bin, fill it in the fall and keep any remaining leaves in a holding bin or in plastic bags stored near the bin. As leaves settle in the bin, add another bag or two of the remaining leaves. A cup of nitrogen fertilizer added to the pile will encourage microorganism reproduction and growth.
In the spring and summer, mix grass clippings with the leaves to speed breakdown. By early fall, the leaves will have decomposed enough to till into garden soil to improve the soil for growing plants next spring. If you don’t have a bin, you can create a compost pile. A compost pile should be at least 4 feet wide and 3 or 4 feet high. The length can vary according to the amount of leaves used.
Alabama Extension has the publication Recycling Leaves that provides more information on recycling leaves for use as mulch or compost. For further information, contact your county Extension office.