What to Do With Fall Leaves on Your Lawn

leaves falling from trees

Fall leaves are breathtaking when they change colors, but they can be a nuisance when they finally drop. As the trees and shrubs in your yard lose their leaves, you might be thinking: What can you do with the fall leaves on your lawn (besides just throwing them away)?

From aesthetic enhancements to soil amendments, there are quite a few things you can use those leaves for instead of sending them off to a landfill.

Leaf them be

Pile of leaves
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This solution is for the more environmentally inclined homeowners out there. Leaf litter is vital to local ecosystems. Many critters — from amphibians to chipmunks to insects — make fallen leaves their home in preparation for the coming cold of winter. Some of these animals are beneficial to your lawn and garden, like bees, butterflies (or their cocoons), and other pollinators.

While you can leave the leaves alone, many homeowners (including your neighbors) might not like the cluttered look. Besides, too many leaves can smother your lawn. So, bag, mulch, or leaf blow everything except for one pile of leaves, and keep that one away from your lawn. That should at least offer some protection for these critters. You can place the leftover leaves on your garden beds, where they will double as mulch.

What do you do with the leaves you removed, then? The rest of these ideas can help you find a use for the remaining leaves. 

Turn them into mulch

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Fallen, dried leaves are a free and abundant source of mulch for your lawn, garden beds, trees, and shrubs. There are many benefits to using mulch, such as preventing moss, stopping weeds from sprouting, and free slow-release fertilizer. You can wet the leaves a little after placing them to keep them in place. 

You may want to chop your autumn leaves into smaller pieces before turning them into mulch. When wet, whole leaves can form a heavy mat that doesn’t let much pass through. You can use garden tools like shears to tear them up by hand, or you can use a much more convenient mulching lawn mower

Here’s how to turn leaves into mulch with a mulching lawn mower:

  1. Lay the dry leaves across your lawn.
  2. Pass your lawn mower over them.
  3. Spread out the chopped leaves if needed. Don’t leave a thick layer in any one spot, or it can negatively affect your turfgrass.

If you’re using leaf mulch around your shrubs and trees, don’t let the mulch touch the actual plant. It can foster diseases if you do.

Use them as soil amendments

If you want a low-effort way to get rid of fall leaves that benefits your lawn, you can work them into the soil as soil amendments. There’s no need to compost them first. All you have to do is shred them before you put them into the soil. 

Dig up a few inches of soil, add your shredded leaves, then cover them with the soil. You want the leaves to make good contact with the soil so they can decompose. You may want to add some slow-release nitrogen fertilizer to kickstart the process, as decomposing dried leaves uses nitrogen from the soil.

Make leaf mold

Called “gardener’s gold,” leaf mold is the compost-like byproduct that comes about when leaves are allowed to break down on their own without being mixed with anything else. It doesn’t sound very appealing, but leaf mold is incredibly beneficial to your garden. Here are some of its benefits:

  • Excellent source of calcium and magnesium, which are necessary for plant growth
  • Improves soil structure through added texture
  • Helps soil retain water better
  • Attracts beneficial organisms like earthworms

Leaf mold is not a substitute for compost or fertilizer, however. It doesn’t have the main nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) necessary to maintain healthy plant growth.

Here is a simplified tutorial on making leaf mold:

  1. Gather your leaves.
  2. Dampen your leaves.
  3. Wet them again if they dry out.
  4. Repeat over the 6 to 12 months it takes for the leaves to decompose.

Compost them

DIY wire compost bin full of leaves and yard scraps
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Composting is one of the most common ways to get rid of fall leaves outside of throwing them away. As “browns,” fallen leaves are an excellent source of carbon for your compost pile (as opposed to nitrogen-rich “greens” like grass clippings). Here’s an easy guide to making your own compost if you want to get started.

Since you want to keep a balance of brown to green compost components, you may end up with more leaves than your compost bin can handle. If that’s the case, you can save them for the next year. Keep them in a bag and store them in a cool, dry place until needed.

Use them as insulation

Did you know that leaves make free, decent insulation? If you bag them and pack them tightly together, they can help regulate the cooler areas of your home, although you may want to keep them in outdoor structures like your shed or garage. 

It also helps insulate your plants. In the same vein as mulch, a layer of leaves on top of root vegetables can keep them alive throughout the cooler months so you can harvest them well into the winter. 

Here’s how to insulate plants other than root vegetables using leaves:

  1. Build a wire cage around the desired plant.
  2. Fill this wire cage with leaves.

Once spring comes, you can take the cage apart and save your autumn leaves for next winter or turn them into mulch, compost, leaf mold, or any of the other ideas on this list.

Make leaf crafts

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Why not get creative and capture the beauty of the season with a few arts and crafts? With their varied shapes and colors, leaves can be used to make decor to get you into the fall spirit. If you have kids, this can be a fun bonding activity for the family – and it’s a lot cheaper than traditional fall activities like apple picking or visiting a pumpkin patch. 

Here are some suggestions of things you can create with fall leaves:

  • Wall art
  • Paper mache crafts
  • Fall wreaths
  • Thanksgiving centerpieces
  • Autumn bouquets 

Give them away

If you truly don’t want anything to do with your fall leaves, you can give them away. Maybe your neighbors, family, or friends would be interested in this fallen gold for their lawns, gardens, or houseplants. 

If you can’t find any interested takers in your personal circle, check if your community collects leaves to compost. Some cities and counties compost leaves from the community and give the compost back to the community for free. If your local municipality offers this service, you can also check if they offer curbside pick-up.

And if your community doesn’t have a public composting program yet, maybe you can suggest it to a community leader or start the project yourself!

FAQ about fall leaves

Can you burn fall leaves?

Please don’t! While some areas allow burning leaves, others have strict bans in place. Even if your area allows it, consider these negative effects:

  • Smoke can irritate your lungs. If not your lungs, those of the people around you.
  • Burning leaves can release dangerous chemicals into the air.
  • Even the smallest outdoor fire can spread and burn down communities and forests, especially in drought-ridden areas like California, Utah, and Nevada. 

How do you preserve autumn leaves for arts and crafts projects?

You have a few options for preserving your fall leaves to make them last longer in your art projects:

  • Press them in between two sheets of wax paper, and then press them under a heavy book.
  • Forgo the wax paper and press the leaves in a book.
  • Soak them in a water and glycerin solution. Let them dry for a few days.
  • Dry them in a microwave.
  • Decoupage them by coating them in Modge Podge or a similar product.

Do decaying leaves make the soil acidic?

In the long term, leaves don’t change soil pH as they break down. They might make the soil more acidic for a few weeks, but the soil naturally goes back to normal over time. If you’re worried about your soil pH, you can get to the bottom of the issue with a soil test

What’s the best way to remove leaves from your lawn?

There are many ways to remove leaves from your lawn. The “best” one all depends on your needs, your budget, and the amount of effort you’re willing to exert. The most popular DIY options are:

  • Raking leaves (you can use one of the best leaf rakes to make this task easier and faster)
  • Using a leaf blower to blow the leaves off your lawn or into piles
  • Mowing over the leaves with a mulching lawn mower and leaving the shredded pieces on the lawn

You can even hire a pro to get rid of leaves for you. On average, the cost of professional leaf removal ranges from $155 to $460.

Don’t want to deal with fall leaves?

Fall cleanup can be time-consuming enough already; after that, you’ll need to figure out what to do with your fall leaves. If that’s not how you pictured spending your fall afternoons, why not hire a professional to deal with the leaves for you?

Lawn Love can connect you with lawn care pros in your area who can take care of all your leaf removal, yard cleanup, and lawn maintenance needs. Hire a pro near you through Lawn Love today.

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Janine Caayao

Janine Caayao has always been fascinated with growing plants, from fruits and veggies to bonsai trees and orchids. Now, she’s interested in urban gardening with her family. She loves finding new tips and tricks to keep their plants thriving.