By: Colleen Duncan

When the final leaves fall from otherwise bare trees, it marks the end of fall harvest and the beginning of winter preparation. Clean up your yard and take care of your leaves in a responsible way by following these three steps:

1. Collect leaves with hand-powered tools

When cleaning up leaves and other fall debris, make sure you aren’t dirtying the air in the process. Using gas-powered lawn mowers and leaf blowers emits carbon monoxide and other pollutants into the air, not to mention noise pollution that can frustrate your neighbors. Instead, opt for hand-powered garden tools such as rakes and push-mowers for the cleanest options. Since hand-powered tools might be impractical for larger gardens and yards, electric is the next best option. Electric options are less polluting than gas-powered tools, but still require energy to power, so use sparingly.

2. Create a leaf-compost

Leaves are the fall harvest you take for granted each year. Fall leaves are actually rich in minerals and organic matter that can be beneficial to your soil and plants. By bagging them for collection, you are denying your soil vital nutrients that can make it more fertile for next year’s garden. Instead of throwing them away, turn the piles into natural fertilizer and mulch.

To create leaf compost, layer shredded leaves with grass clippings, as the clippings provide the nitrogen that helps accelerate leaf decomposition. Be sure to water your compost and actively turn the mixture with a rake or pitchfork. By next growing season, you’ll have a crumbly natural fertilizer to use in your garden.

Alternatively, you can spread shredded leaves around shrubs and trees as mulch. This is a natural and cost effective way to keep weeds at bay around your plants. Un-shredded leaves can be layered onto perennial plant beds as extra winter insulation, and can be removed in spring as the warm weather returns.

3. DIY with leaves

Capture the spirit of fall and turn fallen leaves into keepsake pieces. With a little paint and modge-podge, there are plenty of DIY projects to share with kids, use as Thanksgiving center-pieces, or give as gifts.

  • Paint fall leaves and use decorated leaves as place cards or string into fall garland. (via 6th Street Design School)
  • Dip leaves into paint and use as stamps to create leaf-print pillowcases, journals and more! (via Butiksofie)
  • Modge-Podge leaves into a leaf-bowl to use as a catch-all dish or as a fall centerpiece. (via Shelterness)

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