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What to do with all the leaves?

Each autumn, a precious and free resource for gardeners falls from the sky. Many folks choose to bag this excellent source of nutrients and have them hauled away. Leaves are an invaluable source of essential plant nutrients, such as calcium, phosphorus, and potassium.

Hardwood leaves used in woodland landscape beds are attractive and work well with native wildflowers, such as bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).

Hardwood leaves used in woodland landscape beds are attractive and work well with native wildflowers, such as bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).
Joey Williamson, ©2016, Clemson Extension

Gardeners can utilize leaves by mulching them with a lawnmower into the lawn, piling them up and turning them into compost, then incorporating into landscape and garden beds. Mulching leaves into the lawn is by far the easiest method. A lawnmower with a mulching mower blade makes short work of chopping the leaves into fine particles, which will then break down relatively quickly.

A lawnmower also can be used to chop and gather leaves for composting. Composting leaves is a lengthier (3 months up to 1 year), yet relatively straightforward process. Pile leaves up, add water, and turn them occasionally (once or twice every month) to create leaf mold compost. Incorporate leaf mold compost into landscape or garden beds, or use it as a mulch.

Recycling leaves comes with one caveat. Diseases and pest insects can overwinter in fallen leaves. So, if there has been a consistent problem on one particular tree or shrub, remove and destroy those leaves.

For more information on mulch or composting, see HGIC 1604, Mulch; HGIC 1600, Composting; Fall Leaves: To Leave or Not to Leave; and Composting Tips.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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