Welcome to my Guide for Fall Leaf Removal!
Every year as summer winds down and temperatures cool off, the earth begins to transition into the fall season. Plants and trees begin to go dormant, and we find our yards and gardens transformed into a wonderland of falling leaves. If we’re lucky, the leaves are colorful – reds, yellows, oranges add seasonal beauty to our end-of-summer garden. But colorful or not, the leaves find their way to the ground. If left alone, they will harm our lawns, smother our plants, and annoy our neighbors. Not to mention that they can make our yard and garden look messy! So, that means it’s time to get out there and take care of them. Find out all about fall leaf removal in the detailed guide below.
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Gathering the leaves
There are a few ways to gather up leaves in your yard. The first and most obvious is to use a rake. Raking is great exercise, and can be a great way to spend time in the yard. I consider raking kind of like weeding. It’s mindless, almost meditative, and a great way to clear the head of worries and just enjoy being outside. And it’s easy to see your job well done once finished. I recommend using a very wide plastic rake. Wide, because you want to maximize how many leaves you can move at one time. And plastic, for its durability and less tendency to get clogged with leaves on the tines. Here’s one that is advertised as “clog-free”. And this is the one I have at home, and love it!
Raking can be overwhelming if you have a very large property or if you are not quite in the best shape of your life. It’s great for small properties, for a quick removal of just a few leaves in a limited space, or if you’re interested in a quiet and invigorating experience. However, it does take a lot of time to do a lot of leaves this way. If you have a lot of leaves, and if your budget allows, then you might find some power tools more to your liking.
A great way to quickly move a lot of leaves, and at the same time give them a little bit of a shred, is to go over them with your mower with a bag attachment. This is good if you only have a few inches worth of leaves on your yard. Any more than that, your mower won’t be up to the task. If you use a mulching mower, you can leave the baggage attachment off, and then leaves will be mulched into a fine tread and left on the lawn to help provide nutrients for next season’s growth. Here’s a great list of options for mulching mowers and mulching blades for your existing mower. I wouldn’t recommend using a mulching mower for oak leaves, because they’re so thick, almost leathery. Same with magnolia tree leaves, or any other type of leaf that is very thick and fibrous. Those have to be raked up and put through the shredder or bagged and sent off for disposal.
A very noisy but very effective way to gather the leaves up is to use a blower. A high powered gas blower is the fastest way to move a large amount of leaves in a large property area. A smaller and less powerful but less noisy option would be to use a battery powered or electric cord powered blower. These are okay for sidewalks, porches, and getting leaves out from under shrubbery.
Here’s a high-powered blower that comes highly recommended. Here at home we have a small battery powered blower. It’s not really great for large scale leaf moving in our 1/2 acre tree-filled property. It’s best for clearing sidewalks and porches and the driveway. I’m coveting a larger, more powerful blower.
The final option in the power tool realm is to use a vacuum. Often, a leaf blower motor can be reversed to become a vacuum, like this one. Leaves are sucked up through the tube, sent through a shredder, and then they end up in a bag for easy removal. You can also purchase a universal adapter like this one that sends the shredded leaves through a longer hose to end up in a trash can.
If you use a gas powered or even an electric powered blower or vacuum, make sure you use ear protection for your safety.
Okay, you’ve got you’re leaves into big piles in your yard, and now you’re wondering what to do with them? Well first, call the kids out and the dogs and everybody jump in the leaf piles. After all, this is the quintessential fall experience for young children and the young-at-heart, right? Take lots of pictures of those smiling faces, and then hand them their own rakes to help cleanup. 🙂
Okay now that you’ve got your piles raked up again, what are you going to do with the leaves?
The first question is: are you going to keep them for using in your garden, or are you planning to just get rid of them? If you have any kind of garden in your yard, I would encourage you to consider keeping them and recycling them for use in your garden. We’ll talk about those options in more detail down below.
But if you’re going to get rid of them, then follow your city’s guidelines for leaf removal. Some cities allow you to drag the leaves to the curb, and just pile them there for later pick up by the city vacuum truck. Other cities ask you to bag your leaves, in either paper yard waste bags or large contractor plastic bags. Still others require you to bring your leaves to a landfill or other disposal area on your own.
There are some tools you can use to make moving the leaves easier. If you’re hauling your leaves to the curb, you might consider using the EZ Leaf Hauler from plowhearth.com. Or, you can pile your leaves onto a tarp like any of these from Amazon.com, and then drag the tarp to the curb.
If you’re bagging, then maybe the Leaf Chute would be a good option for you. It’s a low-tech, three-sided plastic tube that props open the empty bag and has a wide mouth for easy loading. Or how about these lawn claws? They make picking up large handfuls of leaves a cinch.
If you have space on your property, you can pile shredded or unshredded leaves into a wooded area. Or you can add them to a compost pile, or you can use them as mulch. My favorite solution is to use them as mulch, so let’s talk about that more now.
Using shredded leaves as mulch
If you are lucky enough to have a lot of leaves in your yard, than you have access to one of the best soil amendments that nature has to offer. Whether your property is large or small, using falling leaves in your yard is an excellent way to reduce costs, improve nutrition of your soil, and make your garden more beautiful.
You can use shredded leaves as a beautiful mulch. They can even replace other types of mulch such as shredded hardwood or pine bark.
Make sure your leaves are finely shredded. Use a leaf shredder machine like this one that I use, a leaf vacuum, or your mower to accomplish this. Spread the shredded leaves on top of your annual or perennial beds, or around trees and shrubs, as you would any other type of mulch. Stay away from the crown of the planet, to keep the plant from rotting with too much moisture. For trees and shrubs, spread 3 to 6 inches of shredded leaves. For perennials and annuals, 2 to 3 inches is generally enough. Spread them with some amount of loft, to encourage air circulation and, if applied in the fall, providing some air insulation for the soil below.
You can also use shredded leaves as winter protection for roses, hydrangeas, or other cold-sensitive bushes over the winter. Surround the bush with 12 or more inches of shredded leaves before freezing weather hits. Then in the spring when things start to warm up, pull the leaves away to allow the roads to grow for the new season.
Store any unused shredded leaves in simple piles or plastic trash bags until you are ready to use them next spring.
Using shredded leaves as as soil amendment
In addition to using leaves as mulch, you can also use them as a great soil amendment. A 6 inch layer of finely shredded leaves tilled into heavy clay soil improves the soils drainage, and nutrition. The same layer of 6 inches of finely shredded leaves tilled into sandy soil will improve the moisture retention capabilities of that soil, and improve the ability to retain nutrients. If you do this in the fall, then the leaves will break down within the soil over the winter, leaving you with great soil in the spring. You can add a little fertilizer along with the leaves to hasten the decomposition.
Mulch, Mold, and Compost
So far we’ve been talking about leaves in their raw, shredded form and using them as mulch. But there are two other ways to use leaves to make your garden more healthy.
Leaf mold is simply leaves which have been allowed to decay on their own with no further addition of other plant matter. Leaf mold has a spectacular structure to it. It can hold five times its weight in water, and it adds excellent nutrition to your soil. You can find leaf mold in gutters on your house, along street curves, and on the floor of a wooded area. If you leave mulch on your flowerbeds, then overtime it will decay into leaf mold. You can create leaf mold by simply piling your leaves somewhere and letting them decay. It may take up to three years for leaves to fully decay into leaf mold, but that can be sped up if you turn the leaves regularly and keep them moist. You can speed this along also by covering them in plastic in between stirring them.
You can also use leaves to add to your compost pile. True compost needs both green and brown materials, To balance the nutrients in the resulting product. Usually, you’ll have too many leaves in your yard for your compost tumbler or your compost pile to take in. You could keep a separate pile or bags of leaves near your composter, and add those leaves to the compost during the next summer as needed to balance your green material such as lawn clippings, or plant coatings. In the meantime, your pile of leaves will begin to turn into leaf mold, which is also a great thing.
- Cut your grass as low as possible after it has stopped growing for the season to make raking easier.
- If you don’t get around to cleaning up the leaves on your lawn, it’s not the end of the world. But it does make spring cleanup harder. You should remove wet, matted leaves off of the lawn before the grass grows in spring. Otherwise you’ll have bare patches in your lawn.
- If you don’t have time or energy to take care of the leaves yourself, you could always call in a company to take care of them for you. Costs vary widely, but you should expect about $300-400 per visit, For a normal suburban landscape. Schedule a weekly visit for perfect yard, or three to four visits in Oct-Dec for more cost savings.
- More info: http://www.leaveleavesalone.org/Leaf_Mulching_Tips.html
- Great video about shredded leaf mulch: http://www.finegardening.com/video-fall-leaves-make-great-natural-mulch
But What About Black Walnut Leaves?!
If you have black walnut trees in your yard, like I do, then you want to take a little bit of care with your leaf mulching or composting. Here is some information that I found on this subject: Source: http://www.whyy.org/91FM/ybyg/fallleaves.html
First off, yes–black walnut trees do contain a natural substance called juglone that inhibits the growth of many plants (or just plain kills them). It’s contained in every part of the tree–bark, wood, leaves–but is strongest in the roots. In fact, those roots are SO ‘full of it’ that Dr. Paul Roth, Professor Emeritus, Department of Forestry, Southern Illinois University, warns that even if the trees are cut down, the roots will continue the walnut’s “alleopathic” effect on other plants for several years. Plants noted for dying quickly within this range include such favorites as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes and blueberries; petunias, azalea, viburnum, hydrangea and rhododendron.
However, grasses–especially Kentucky bluegrass–are felt to THRIVE near the trees (as long as they get enough sun, of course). And a “FactSheet” from the Ohio State University Extension office has a two-page list of other plants that don’t seem to be affected (most of this information is based on observation, not hard research), including squash, melons, beans, carrots and corn; clematis, forsythia, marigolds, begonias, viole For the complete list go to: http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1148.html (yay! I love em! Plant em NOW!) and zinnia; most Spring bulbs (double yay!), some daylilies, peonies and hostas; and some fruit trees and arborvitaes. The leaves? Dr. Roth says he never puts ANY in his compost pile. In fact, he uses them as a kind of ‘killing mulch’ to get rid of unwanted plants! (He adds that walnut leaves are also strongly acidic.)
The experts at Ohio State, however, feel that well-shredded leaves will lose their plant-harming capability after a month of hot composting. But if you ONLY have black walnut leaves going into your pile, they suggest you test the finished compost by planting tomato seedlings in it before you spread it on the whole garden. Juglone, they note, is tomato Kryptonite.
You may find more helpful info in my Must-Have Fall Garden Tools Guide.