Leave the Leaves!

What’s more beautiful than the fall colors that adorn Princeton each autumn? Leaving those leaves where they can do some good. Consider them an asset to the soil and plants. The Princeton Environmental Commission (PEC) recommends 6 things you can do to take advantage of leaves:  

  • The simplest thing to do is to rake or blow leaves into your woodlot, if available, or in an obscured portion of your yard such as behind shrubs.
  • Mulch leaves with a mower so they can disappear back into the lawn. The fragmented leaves can also be raked onto flower beds as a mulch—a technique particularly appropriate for owners of small lots. Some leaves, like those of silver maples, crinkle-up and all but disappear into the lawn on their own, even before mowing. For thick, persistent leaves like those from a red oak, a corral or the mulch mower approach will keep them from blowing back into the yard. Though a mower with a mulching blade would be optimal, all power mowers should do an adequate job.
  • Spread leaves on garden and leave them there to hold in moisture, suppress weeds, keep the soil cool in the summer, and slowly release nutrients. Planting tomatoes, for instance, requires nothing more than parting the leaves to put the new plants in. The leaf mulch reduces rotting of any tomatoes that touch the ground.
  • Create a leaf corral. A corral or circle of wire fencing will help contain the leaves and keep them from blowing around. A readily available fencing is 3 feet high, green, and comes in rolls at the local hardware store. The corral is essentially invisible when tucked in a back corner of the lot. A U-shape may be preferred so that leaves can be raked right into the enclosure rather than lifted over the fencing. The leaf pile quickly reduces in size over the winter. The leaves can be left to decompose, acting like a sponge to catch the rain, and releasing nutrients to benefit the health of all trees and other landscaping in the vicinity. Contrary to popular notions of composting, it is not necessary to laboriously turn the pile. Leaf piles do not create odors.
  • Use leaves to control weeds by raking them towards the fence line where they can serve as a mulch to keep down weeds that often dominate there. Dump leaves on any other weeds or groundcovers that are getting out of control. A thick layer of leaves discourages weeds. For weeds or groundcovers strong enough to push up through the leaves, first place overlapping pieces of cardboard on the undesired plants, then use the leaves over top to hide the cardboard. Both will decompose over time.
  • If the leaves must leave the property, bag them.

Taking these steps will reduce flooding, water and noise pollution, energy consumption, and municipal costs to pick up and transport the leaves.

Check out the PEC's Princeton's Guide to Fall Leaf Management for more information.