Autumn is here, and soon those beautiful leaves will fall off the trees and start covering your lawn. Many people dread the inevitable raking of the lawn, but you don't have to if you look at your leaves as a free gift from nature. Leaves don't have to end up in trash bags or burn piles. Instead, you can use them to help your garden grow or to beautify your home in an environmentally friendly way. So, if you're ready to change the way you think about autumn leaves, read on!

Composting autumn leaves

Composting is a great and easy way to use fallen leaves as organic fertilizer. Composting helps you create soil rich with minerals so that you can look forward to a healthy spring landscape. So, where to start? You need to have nitrogen-containing ingredients like grass clippings as well as materials high in carbon, like your dry leaves.

Shredded leaves will break down faster than whole leaves and are easier to mix into a compost pile. You don't have to shred leaves, but an easy way to do so is to simply run over them with your lawn mower. Then, throw all your leaves into your compost pile with grass clippings and mix them in well with a shovel or rake so that the newer leaves are buried under the older composted material. Continue to mix and turn over the pile every four to five days to ensure an even breakdown of material into mineral-enriched soil. Cover the compost pile with a tarp during late autumn and winter to seal heat in and keep moisture out. Your compost should be ready for use in about two months. You'll know it when it turns a dark brown color and the original ingredients are unrecognizable. It should smell earthy. At that point, you can dig finished compost into your soil to help your garden grow.

Mulching autumn leaves

Compost is an organic soil enhancer that goes into the ground where you're gardening. Mulch, on the other hand, acts as a protective covering that goes on top of the soil and in between plants. It functions to reduce weeds and maintain moisture. Many people buy mulch, but you can easily make it on your own. All you have to do is collect the leaves from your lawn and chop them up with your lawnmower. Add some woodchips and grass clippings for good measure and voila, you're done! Now, you can plant your flowers and garden plants and place the leaf mulch on top of the soil to provide easy, organic protection. Unlike compost, however, you do not want your mulch to decompose to the point that its original components are unrecognizable. So, be sure to make new mulch and replace the old mulch when it starts to decompose.

Leaves as fireplace fuel

Burning whole piles of leaves to get rid of them is wasteful. However, there's nothing wrong with burning leaves if they are serving a purpose. If you happen to own a wood-burning fireplace, you can give your leaves many a worthy purpose. As any Boy Scout veteran will tell you, leaves and twigs are perfect for starting a controlled fire. So, fill a bag with dry leaves from your backyard and store it in a cool, dry place and use a handful each time you light up your cozy wood-burning fireplace. The leaves will function as kindling to get the fire going faster, and they'll lend a delicious aroma to your home. It's a win-win situation for all involved.

Leaves as natural decorations

Don't forget about your fall leaves' natural beauty! You can save some of your leaves for use in art projects. Use them on a cold day to make fun indoor crafts with your kids. Pick out a few of the most colorful and shapely leaves and frame them for a simple and beautiful wall decoration. Gather a bunch of leaves and some old clothing and make a scarecrow for your yard. You can even turn your leaves into potpourri if you like the smell of fresh leaves in the fall. Simply crumble up your leaves into mesh bags, add a cinnamon stick for good measure, and enjoy the delicious smell of autumn.

If you are unable to get rid of the majority of your leaves by composting or mulching, check to see if your city or county provides special assistance with leaf disposal. You can also call your garbage-collection service to see if they have special collection days for yard waste. Many municipalities require homeowners to dispose of leaves in paper bags as an environmental solution. Finally, remember to have some fun with your leaves before you put them to use in your home or garden. Find a spot in your hard that is free of rocks and make a big leaf pile for your kids to jump into. They'll have a blast and you'll have fun watching them make lasting memories. Good luck!

Sirena Rubinoff originally wrote this story for It is republished with permission here.

4 ecological ways to dispose of autumn leaves
Autumn is here, and soon those beautiful leaves will fall off the trees and start covering your lawn. Many people dread the inevitable cleaning of the lawn, but