Leaves cascading down from trees indicate the arrival of autumn. However, colorful and awe-inspiring autumn leaves can be a hazard if left to lie on the ground too long.
Fallen leaves form a dense insulator to protect trees’ roots and prevent competing plants from growing. Decomposing leaves also provide nutrients for the tree. But wet leaves can be a safety hazard and leaves left on the lawn through the winter can pose a threat to the grass. These are just a couple of reasons why so much effort is placed on leaf clean-up in the fall. The following are some creative ways to recycle leaves that fall from your trees in the weeks to come.
· Mulch: Shredded leaves can make for a great amendment to fertilizer for garden beds and even the lawn. Leaves lying on the grass can be mulched into small pieces with a mulching mower so they don’t choke the blades of grass. Leaves also can be broken down with a string trimmer, a leaf blower that has a vacuum function or a commercial shredder/chipper. Add the shredded leaves to a compost pile or use them to fill container plants before adding regular potting soil.
· Insulation: Collect leaves to mound over delicate perennial plants and shrubs. The leaves will add more warmth to the soil and may help plants make it through harsh winters. Just remove the leaves slowly when spring arrives so that the soil underneath can get the sunlight and water it needs to thrive. Leave some leaves in the yard so that animals can use them as nesting material and line their dens for the winter.
· Stuffing: Create whimsical scarecrows as part of your autumn decoration scheme. Gather older clothes that you no longer use and stuff the sleeves of shirts and the legs of pants with leaves, which are less expensive and easier to come by than straw. Use a few pieces of straw around the neck and hand areas of the scarecrow for visual effect. Tie off with twine and display your scarecrow.
· Bedding: Chicken owners can use fallen leaves as bedding in their chicken coops. Dry leaves also may create more comfortable and drier conditions for goats and other livestock. Goats may look to recently fallen leaves as a nutritious food source. Gather the leaves and let the goats munch before you further rake and compost the leaves.
· Decorations: Natural leaves can be used as decorations both inside and outside a home. String freshly fallen leaves together and wrap them around a grapevine wreath for a rustic door decoration. Leaves can be placed in clear vases and put on display for a cheap way to showcase some autumn color. Preserve favorite leaves with a lamination machine or by sealing them between heated sheets of waxed paper. Cut out the leaf shapes and use for hanging window decorations.
· Recreation: Leaves have long been favorite toys for children, who eagerly await jumping into large piles of fallen leaves. Fill paper bags with leaves and draw a target on the front. Let kids test their skill aiming for the targets. Children can camouflage their clothing with leaves and masking tape and have a more intense session of “hide and seek.”