What To Do With Fall Leaves


Ways to Use Leftover Leaves

January 29, 2019
Fall Leaves

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We don’t call it “fall” around here for nothing. If lots of leaves have fallen in your yard, why not put them to good use right at home? Here are eight ways to use fall leaves.

The colorful foliage that delights the senses precedes the literal fall, when most of the deciduous trees send their leaves drifting to the ground.

Fallen leaves rustle underfoot. They smell good. The wind sometimes whips them into a frenzy of dancing shapes.

However, fall leaves could also be considered free organic fertilizer right in your yard! And, though there is labor involved, you need to rake or blow them up or they’ll smother your lawn and create other issues.

Many communities around here make compost from the leaves residents drop off at dumps and transfer stations; the larger towns and cities hold leaf- and yard-waste collections! I’ve just finished spreading a pickup load of my town’s leaf compost in my vegetable garden.

How to Use Fall Leaves

The first step is to rake up those leaves—or, if you have a larger yard, use a leaf blower; today, there are many low-noise, lightweight options.

  • Mow back over the leaves a few times. The chopped leaves will break down quickly in spring and add valuable organic matter and mineral nutrients to the lawn. The trick is to mow frequently, before over six inches of leaves fall. Another trick is to remove the bagging attachment with the first pass. Mow the leaf piles and allow them to fall onto the turf. Then make a second pass with the bagging attachment in place. The chopped leaves will now be sucked into the bag.
  • Spread them as protective mulch for the landscape. Chopped leaves can be spread around trees, shrubs and gardens to help conserve moisture and control weed growth. Leaves make a good insulating cover for overwintering tender perennials or root crops stored in the ground. Leaf cover allows fall-planted garlic to root without sprouting, and prevents shallow-rooted strawberries from heaving during winter’s freeze-thaw cycles.
  • Use them as a weed barrier for spring plantings. Chopped or left whole, leaves make excellent mulch for vegetable crops, blueberries (and other berries), and ornamental shrubs. They not only suppress weeds and help retain soil moisture, but because they contain no weed seeds themselves, they won’t encourage the spread of new weeds. 
  • Make compost for a valuable soil amendment. Carbon-rich leaves pair well with summer’s nitrogen-rich grass clippings. Layer three or four inches of old leaves with an inch of fresh grass clippings or other green leafy yard waste. 
  • Make leaf mold. Leaf mold is a special kind of all-leaf compost much beloved by English gardeners. It simply involves collecting and storing leaves, shredded or not, in plastic bags or wire bins. Keep the leaves moist, and let the fungi take over. After two or three years, the leaves will have disintegrated into a dark, sweet-smelling, soil conditioner, high in essential minerals. It’s exceptional. See our video on how to make leaf mold.
  • Store root vegetables. If you have a cool, humid spot, you can store carrots, beets, and other root vegetables between layers of crisp, freshly fallen leaves. Sprinkle each layer of leaves with water (don’t let them get soggy). If you don’t grow your own vegetables, visit a farmers’ market and try to find a vendor who will sell you half a bushel or more of your favorite root crops.
  • Make a playground. My siblings, friends, and I used to have tons of fun leaping around in the big leaf piles we’d rake from our lawns each fall. Back in those days, our dads touched off the leaf piles in the late afternoon, and we roasted potatoes and apples while the giant piles burned to ash. Most jurisdictions rightly prohibit open leaf-burning these days to reduce air pollution, but the smell of a burning leaf still triggers powerful memories of those idyllic days.
  • There’s no end to crafts that use fall leaves. My favorite: preserving the rich fall colors by “glycerinizing” a few stems of the most colorful maples. 

See our 10 Fall Cleanup Tips for a Better Spring Garden!

About This Blog

"Living Naturally" is all about living a naturally healthy lifestyle. Margaret Boyles covers health tips, ways to avoid illness, natural remedies, food that's good for body and soul, recipes for homemade beauty products, ideas to make your home a healthy and safe haven, and the latest news on health. Our goal is also to encourage self-sufficiency, whether it's relearning some age-old skills or getting informed on modern improvements that help us live better, healthier lives.

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Field nice and leaves

Will leaving a leaf pile to create leaf mold create a home for mice?
We just got 5000$ damage to one of our cars because the mice chewed through the wires trying to get to our kids old food., so we want to reduce their numbers in our yard as much as possible.


Bag them up and surround your house with them x-tra insulation for you basement/cellar


I throw them in my chicken coop. My girls love to tear them up looking for bugs. What's left goes into the compost bin along with the chicken droppings.

Leaf mold

I have some plastic 55 gallon drums that I put leaves in. Add water, more leaves, repeat. Leaf mold in a few months as opposed to 2-3 years.



Last fall I used pine needles

Last fall I used pine needles as a mulch. Our neighbor has huge pine trees bordering their yard. After asking if I might use some I moved them to surround the bottom of my Rhododendran, I might add it was beautiful the spring prior to this. We had taken such good care of it for the seven years we were able to enjoy its beautiful flowers. To make a long story short, not knowing this at the time, one or more of the pine trees had that terrible blite that went around our state. It killed my Rhododendran. I am sure all of you are very careful, after this episode I am much more careful as to what I use for over wintering my perenials.

Susan, are you sure it was

Susan, are you sure it was the pine-needle mulch that killed your rhododendron? 

If you haven't already, I'd suggest consulting a horticultural expert or a plant-disease specialist through your county (or state) Cooperative Extension office.

Most states have labs that will diagnose plant diseases from samples and suggest remedies (if any), or at least help you track down the cause. 

Thank you for the suggestion

Thank you for the suggestion and I will do that, as of right now I do feel the needles were the cause.
Thank you for your reply and suggestion.

I'd like to use my leaves as

I'd like to use my leaves as compost, but oak leaves are very acidic. I know that only works for some types of plants. (Trilliums are a wild member of the orchid family and love acid soil.) Would they help or hurt roses?

I'd like to use them as

I'd like to use them as mulch, but oak leaves are very acidic. Would there be a problem with roses?

Go right ahead, Lois. It's

Go right ahead, Lois. It's true that fresh oak leaves contain acidic compounds, but the decomposition process neutralizes these acids and shouldn't affect the pH of your soil.

Running a lawn mower over the leaves to chop them will produce a better-quality, better-looking mulch that will decompose more rapidly and won't be so likely to blow off in the wind.

Most experts reommend having your soil tested every two or three years, not just to determine is pH, but also to check the levels of plant nutrients.

Here's a good fact sheet on organic mulches.

Thank you, Margaret. Your

Thank you, Margaret.

Your fact sheet confused me a bit on this: If quickly decaying organic mulches such as fresh leaves, wood chips, and straw, are used, a considerable amount of nitrogen is taken from the soil by the micro-organisms decomposing the organic matter. This reduces the nitrogen reserves in the root zone of the growing plant. If additions of nitrogenous fertilizer aren't made regularly, a nitrogen deficiency may result.

Also it says: Leaves are the least expensive mulch available but make a better mulch if composted.

How should I compost the leaves? Will the chopping up by a lawn mower let them compost in place? I figure I need to make tubes around my roses. They are "carpet roses", so they are fairly low and wide. As for soil testing, do I just take a sample to my local cooperative extension?

Lots of questions! Relative

Lots of questions! Relative to causing a nitrogen deficit in the root zone, just keep fertilizing your roses as you always do. Your mulch will break down slowly and won't deplete nitrogen at the root zone. But check out this column that contains information specific to roses.

Compost chopped leaves as a carbon-rich addition to an ordinary compost pile. Or make leaf-mold compost—just pile leaves (chopped or whole)and leave them alone for a couple of years.

Give your local extension office a call to see if they accept soil samples for testing. If they do, they'll give you instructions for collecting your sample. If they don't, they should have information on where you can send it.




Thank-you for this blog. I

Thank-you for this blog. I want to use my leaves for compost. Only problem s I have a lot of pine tree needles also falling. Do you think if I try to shred them with a lawn mower, I can then use the whole blend with my shredded greens??

I have so much nitrogen rich leftovers. I will put all my vege and fruit scrapes in the blender and I have pulp from juicing. Just have a problem with adequate carbon. Any suggestions greatly appreciated

Pine needles decompose very

Pine needles decompose very slowly, even when shredded, so don't add too much of the leaf/needle mixture to your compost pile. A better choice might be to use the shredded mixture as a weed-suppressing, water-retaining mulch in your garden.



To increase the carbon content of your compost, why not ask your neighbors if you can scrounge bags or piles of fall leaves they won't be using. Non-diseased garden debris (leaves, stems, flowers from dead plants)is another option.



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