Fall is my favorite season. I love the fall colors, but I don't like raking all of those leaves. I have a big yard and I could just leave them lie where they fall, but a layer of whole leaves will smother the grass. So, what to do with all those leaves?

The first thing to do is to pile them up as high as possible and jump into them — or have the kids or grandkids jump into them. Don't forget to take the family photo for the annual holiday card.

The simplest thing to do is to shred the leaves and spread them out. A mulching mower does the best job, but any lawnmower will work just fine. Simply mow over the leaves. The finer the shred, the faster the leaves will decompose, so mow over them twice going in two different directions. Not only does the lawn mower shred the leaves but it also spreads the leaves over the lawn or garden. The shredded leaves will decay and add organic matter to the soil.

Shredded leaves make great inexpensive mulch. After the ground freezes, add a layer of shredded leaves around the base of perennial plants. Do not pile the leaves up against the trunks or stems of the plants. Mulch is great for the vegetable garden as well.

The purpose of a winter mulch is not to keep the ground from freezing but to keep the ground frozen and prevent freezing and thawing during late winter warm-ups. We don't want those perennials waking up until spring has really arrived.

Dried leaves are a good source of carbon, so add them to the compost pile. Remember to balance the carbon with the addition of a nitrogen source to ensure active composting. Sources of nitrogen include grass clippings, plant clippings, and herbivore manure. Manure from rabbits, goats, and sheep are best, because it is what we call a cold source of nitrogen. Mix the carbon and nitrogen sources together in the compost pile.

Leaf mold consists of only decomposed leaves. The leaves break down slower, but the result is a great soil amendment to improve soil structure and moisture retention. Simply create a "compost pile" for leaves only. It takes about 6 to 12 months for the leaves to break down into leaf mold. Moisture and oxygen are important for the process.

Leaf mold can be created in a trash bag. Better yet, use one of those orange bags with the jack-o-lantern face on it for instant Halloween decorations. Poke holes in the bag for oxygen, add the leaves and a little water. Kick the bag around every once in a while to mix it up. Instant leaf-mold in six months.

Freshly fallen leaves can be used as a soil amendment. Simply mix the leaves into the garden soil.

Fall leaves are beautiful, so why not save a few to enjoy all winter. Collect an assortment of fall leaves and press them. Melt some beeswax or old candle stubs in a double-boiler, dip the leaves in the wax and lay on waxed paper to dry. Use scented candles or add cinnamon to the wax for aroma therapy. Use the pressed leaves for arts and crafts.

Whatever you do with your leaves, please do not bag and send them to the landfill. Happy Halloween!

Robin Fruth-Dugstad is a horticulture professor at Rochester Community and Technical College with 25 years of experience gardening and landscaping. Send plant and garden questions to life@postbulletin.com.

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