There are lots of pretty fall leaves everywhere in Iowa right now, but you might be itching to clean up the ones in your yard. Before you pile them into bags and set them out for trash pickup, read this.
Dead leaves have many uses and are really beneficial for your yard and the environment. Here are just a few of the ways you could take advantage of all that free material to improve your yard and take care of the environment.
Leaf Compost is an Epic Soil Amendment
Adding leaves to your compost and then adding that compost to your soil is definitely the cheapest and easiest way to improve your soil quality.
Leaves also improve the soil texture, making it a little lighter and helping you get to that lovely black-gold humus.
Leaves contain all those nutrients and minerals that trees absorbed out of the soil over the summer. If you have a compost bin, adding leaves to the mix can help you reach the balance of brown and green matter. Leaves also break down pretty fast, which means you should be able to use your compost in your garden beds sooner than later.
Leaves add essential nutrients and minerals to your compost bin and your soil when you use the compost. Leaves also improve the soil texture, making it a little lighter and helping you get to that lovely black-gold humus.
If you don’t have a composter, you can pile leaves straight onto your garden beds and work it in to keep them from blowing away. If you want them to decay ever faster, you can mow over them with the lawnmower a few times to chop them up.
Leaf Litter Provides Shelter & Food for Overwintering Critters
There are many little critters from birds to turtles, toads to pollinating insects, and there are many mammals and invertebrates that need some leaf litter to get through the winter. Leaf litter is a source of food, shelter, and nesting material for many animals. You might be surprised how many important species of bees tuck themselves into safe little sheltered places for the winter. Pollinators are critical, and keeping some fallen leaves is one super-easy way to support them.
It’s totally fair to not want leaves all over your yard all winter long, but consider leaving a small pile or two in sheltered corners for the wildlife. Behind a shed or the garage, or around the bases of large trees or shrubs make for great places to leave some fallen leaves out for the critters.
Leaves Make Excellent Mulch
You might be aware of the benefits of mulch for your yard. Well, what’s better than bark mulch? Free mulch! A thick layer of leaves does all the same things for your trees, shrubs, and perennials as bark mulch: regulates soil temperature, retains soil moisture, insulates plants and roots from freeze-thaw cycles. This layer also breaks down over time and improves your soil. Leaves get that last benefit done a little sooner because they break down faster than bark mulch does.
If you’re worried about the leaves just blowing around all over the place and not staying where you want to mulch, then rake them all into the middle of your lawn and mow over them a few times. This breaks them up to be much smaller, so they’re less likely to catch on the wind and go for a ride.
Leaf mulch can also be useful for your fall lawn care regimen. We don’t recommend leaving whole leaves on your lawn because a thick mat of leaves can have the same effect on your lawn that a piece of plastic might: killing it eventually. But, if you mow over the leaves several times, so they are chopped up finely, and then spread them evenly over your lawn, they can also help improve the health of your grass, breaking down as mulch and essential nutrients for your lawn.
So when you’re doing your fall yard cleanup, don’t rush to put all those leaves in plastic bags for the landfill. See how many ways you can find to use them in your own yard, and embrace all that free mulch, soil conditioner, and critter shelter.