While we don’t have the traditional fall leave drop in South Florida, we do have trees dropping leaves at many different times during the year so this advice is still useful! --Gene
As the cycle of seasons moves forward, each season brings with it new developments in a landscape. In the autumn of the year, you may find that you have more dead leaves than you can easily handle. This may be where some creativity and ingenuity comes in. Sure, you could rake them all up and burn them or throw them away – but perhaps there’s something more creative to do with dead tree leaves.
As you consider your options, take a passing glance at what the Department of Natural Resources has to say about the benefits of dead tree leaves in the environment. Dead tree leaves provide nutrients for the soil as well as shelter and cover for animals.
With a fresh mindset, use seven thoughtful uses of dead tree leaves to use the materials nature gives you for a positive purpose.
<![if !supportLists]>1. <![endif]>Winter Mulch
As you clean up your yard in the autumn, raking and gathering dead leaves that fall from the trees, save the leaves for a winter purpose. Many perennial plants and shrubs need winter protection of their roots to keep them from damage from cold subzero temperatures. Dead leaves can make an ideal winter mulch. Mound the leaves in a 4 to 6-inch layer around the base of shrubs. Extend the leaf mounds out to the drip line of the shrubs to ensure that you cover the root system completely. Cover perennial plants and flowers with a thick layer of dead leaves as well.
One caveat – make sure you place the dead leaves around plants after the ground freezes and remove the leaves before the ground warms up too much the next spring to ensure that you keep the roots from overheating in the soil.
<![if !supportLists]>2. <![endif]>Lawn Fertilizer
When leaves litter your lawn, you may think it’s time to get out the rakes and collect them all for disposal. Instead of rakes, what you need is simply your lawn mower. While leaving whole leaves on the lawn would not be healthy for the grass because they would smother it, there is another option. Mow the lawn in standard fashion to chop up the leaves on your lawn. By chopping up the leaves, you break them into tiny pieces that will decompose more quickly. This keeps the grass exposed to air and sun but enables the leaves to decompose and add nitrogen to the soil. You may even find that your lawn no longer needs synthetic fertilizers when you use chopped up leaves as fertilizer.
<![if !supportLists]>3. <![endif]>Brush Pile
If you wish to create an inviting habitat for creatures in your yard, make a large brush pile for the critters. Choose an out-of-the-way spot where you can create the brush pile without anything or anyone disturbing it. Don’t create the brush pile near the foundation of a building, however, because the brush pile might lead to animals burrowing under the foundation. Start the brush pile with a base of large branches, criss-crossed across each other. Add smaller branches over and around the large branches, leaning the smaller branches to make the brush pile look like a teepee. Add dead leaves in and around the branches to finish the brush pile and make it cozy. Once you finish your brush pile, watch for small animals like rodents, chipmunks, garter snakes, lizards, box turtles and wild birds.
<![if !supportLists]>4. <![endif]>Compost
Adding dead leaves to a compost pile is an effective way to increase the nitrogen content of the compost. Add leaves regularly to the compost and then turn the contents of the compost pile to mix the materials well. With regular mixing and turning, leaves added to compost will result in rich compost within three to six months. Once you have compost, you’ll be ready to return it to your landscape as a soil enhancer and natural fertilizer.
<![if !supportLists]>5. <![endif]>Aquaria Supplement
If you have an aquarium with fish, you might add dead leaves to the water in the aquarium to enhance the environment. You will notice that the water color changes almost immediately after you place dead leaves into the aquarium water. Dead leaves release tannins into the water. These tannins lower the pH level of aquarium water, which makes the water healthier for fish. Dead leaves can also fight bacteria and fungi in aquariums as well as reduce the heavy metal content of the aquarium water. If fish in the aquarium are stressed due to illness or they are new additions to the aquarium, dead leaves can improve the health of fish. Some fish may even eat the dead leaves in an aquarium.
<![if !supportLists]>6. <![endif]>Flowers
If you find colorful dead leaves on the ground, scoop them up to use for a bouquet. You can easily make beautiful fall roses out of a few colorful maple leaves. Take one maple leave and fold it in half from top to bottom, leaving the stem on the leaf. Roll up the folded leaf from left to right to create a tight bundle that will become the center of the flower. Fold another leaf in half in the same fashion and wrap it around the center leaf to make an outer layer. Continue folding leaves in half and wrapping them around the flower to make additional layers. Add as many layers as you wish to make the flower as full as you desire. Once you have the flower you want, wrap floral wire around the base of the flower to hold the layers tightly together. Continue wrapping the floral wire tightly down the stems of the leaves to hold them together. The stems of the leaves will become the stem of the flower.
<![if !supportLists]>7. <![endif]>Pressing
A few perfect leaves on the ground in vivid fall colors can make lasting mementos of the autumn season. Collect leaves and place them between sheets of newspaper in a heavy book for about one day. Next, place the leaves between two sheets of waxed paper and press them with a medium hot iron for approximately 10 seconds. Let the waxed paper cool and cut around the leaves. Display the pressed leaves in a scrapbook or photo album.
Once you learn to view dead leaves with a different perspective, you may never burn or throw them away again! Swing by the Red Beacon website for more ideas to put your autumn leaves to good use.