Autumn is a beautiful time of the year but it also creates a big mess.
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Autumn brings a spectacular array of color when the tree leaves turn from green to various shades of gold and red. The hillside view becomes the next cover of a scenic calendar. As the first leaves start falling, children give the most colorful ones immortality between sheets of wax paper. More leaves mean a play date with the rake to gather giant piles of the crunchy delights. Once the fun wears off, the leaves could become a never-ending nuisance and eyesore, but they could also be put to work.
Use the last mowing of the season as a way to disperse the fallen leaves to feed the lawn. Leaf particles add nutrients to the soil that keep helpful microbes working to enrich the grass. Reduce the leaves to tiny particles while mowing so the pieces fall into the grass. Those tiny bits of leaves are also great for the vegetable garden. Make a batch with a weed trimmer if they are too hard to rake from the lawn. Fill a 5-gallon bucket or trashcan with the leaves and use the weed trimmer like a giant mixer to break them up. Scatter the leaf mulch on the garden so it breaks down for spring planting.
Move large leaf piles to the flowerbeds for a thick blanket of mulch for the winter months. The plants under the mulch are protected from wind, frost damage, and chilling temperatures. The soil freezes, but the soil temperature remains high enough that the plants do not suffer root damage. Spring bulbs benefit from the protection as well. The leaves break down during the winter months, so the soil gains added nutrients and a good layer of organic matter.
Once the lawn and gardens are taken care of, check the gutters. The large leaves that fall into the gutters cause clogs that keep the rainwater or melting snow from running to the downspout. Use leaf guards or a roll of screen to keep the gutters clear of leaves while still letting water fall through.
Also be sure to check any swimming pools, fountains, koi ponds, or other artificial bodies of water. In addition to possibly clogging the filters, the leaves will also reduce the water quality as they decompose. If placing a cover over the water is not an option, consider a barrier such as rocks around a pond or a short fence around a pool. In addition to improving safety, this barrier will prevent leaves from being blown along the ground into the water.
The leaves pulled from gutters or water make a good addition to a compost bin. To start a compost bin, roll a section of chicken wire into a barrel shape with an opening at the top and bottom. Fill the wire barrel with the excess leaves. Add kitchen scraps and green material, such as grass clippings, to the bins for rich compost the following year.
As a last resort to remove fall leaves, call the local nursery or garden center to see if they need leaves for composting and might be willing to clean them up at a reduced rate. Ask friends, neighbors, and family members who may also compost or need mulch for their gardens. They might be willing to help and make the process less painless in exchange for getting to take some home and a nice dinner when the work is done.
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