Fall… all the beautiful colors on the trees… and the piles of leaves on the ground. All those pretty leaves are more than just eye-candy that requires a lot of work to deal with. With a little effort you can put those leaves to work for you. Whatever you decide to do with your fallen leaves, make sure to keep them off sidewalks and streets where they can become slippery and dangerous for drivers, bike riders and pedestrians. Take care to keep storm drains clear as well.

Leave them be –  Leaves aren’t bad for your yard. They’re actually good for lawn and yard (you do need to take steps to ensure a heavy layer of leaves doesn’t smother your lawn). A layer of leaves acts as home for a variety of beneficial critters and helps moderate soil temperature and moisture levels. If you’re worried about grass being smothered…

Mow them – this is possibly the easiest answer. Set your mower to the highest setting and run over all the leaves a time or two to crush them up. The latest research is showing that chopped leaves left on lawns can help prevent dandelions, and if they’re crushed up into smaller bits, your lawn will be happier. Plus the leaves provide your yard with much needed nutrients, so it will require less fertilizer.

Mulch them – next up on the effort scale is mulching. Mow your leafy yard with a catch bag attached to your mower, then pile the resulting leaf mulch around the base of plants and trees and spread them in your vegetable garden to help keep the soil healthy.

Compost them – most gardeners know the joys of compost. Black gold. Good compost requires plenty of “green” and “brown” components to be healthy. The best source for the high-carbon brown stuff? Fallen leaves. Just scoop them up, or mow with a catcher attachment and dump them into the compost bin. And if they’ve been on the ground for a while, even better; that brings along some helpful microorganisms that will aid decomposition.

Mold them – leaf mold is basically leafy compost and it’s an amazing soil amendment. Layer fallen leaves with garden soil or finished compost and leave it sit for a year. You’ll have a perfect amendment for vegetable or flower gardens, and some of the best potting soil ever created.

Hoard them – this only works with dry leaves, but… Come spring and summer, the high-carbon brown stuff can be hard to come by and your compost bin might be a little too nitrogen heavy with all the greens being thrown in. The solution? Pull out a bag of leaves you held over from last fall and add it in. Voila! Instant carbon input, and far nicer than shredding newspaper into your compost.

Have fun with them – c’mon, you know you want to. Who can resist jumping into a big pile of freshly raked leaves? Well, aside from the person who did all the raking. Do be aware of ticks – wear light colored clothing and check yourself after your romp in the leaves. Don’t feel up to all that raking and jumping? Preserve the prettiest leaves, stuff a seasonal scarecrow with some (great way to hold onto them till spring), make leaf rubbings, or put some colorful leaves in clear vases or jars to decorate a window box.

Inspired Habitat is written by local environmentally-conscious lifestyle website Bambeco, a company committed to advancing a more sustainable world.

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