The Best Ways to Recycle Fall Leaves

Raking leaves is one of those tasks you either love or loathe. For a few, it’s something calming to be done on a lovely fall day. For many, it’s torment that finishes with all kinds of pain. There’s no denying it: raking, pulling, and stowing them can be diligent work. Yet, don’t release all that work to squander by tossing them away. Here are a few ways you can give the leaves purpose for your yard.

Shred Leaves

Shredding is a common “get rid of the fall leaves” method for the simple fact that you don’t have to rake any up at all. Instead, all you need to do is run them over with the lawn mower. A mulching mower is truly the ideal tool for the job, but any mower with a side discharge will work. Keep in mind you may have to go over the leaves more than once to break them down into small pieces.

The benefit of shredding is that they add nutrients back to your yard by filtering down to the soil and eventually decomposing. Whole leaves, however, will sit on top of the grass and hide it from light and oxygen. Be sure you do not leave more than a 1-inch thick layer of leaves on the lawn. If the layer is thicker than that, go over the lawn again with the bag attached to your mower.

You can also empty the mower’s bag to use the shredded leaves as mulch for your garden beds and around trees. The shredded leaves break down faster and allow water to get through to plant roots. Whole leaves can stick together and keep air and water from reaching plants. By adding shredded leaves to garden beds or base of trees and shrubs, they will help insulate plants and add nutrients to the soil as they break down.

Compost Whole Leaves

If you do not have access to a mower to shred your leaves, another option is to add the whole ones to your compost pile. While shredded break down much faster, whole leaves can still be useful by adding them to a compost pile. You can add grass clippings, manure or even a handful of nitrogen-rich lawn fertilizer to keep the carbon-to-nitrogen balance even and speed up the decomposition process.

Make a Leaf Mold

If your compost pile is made up of only leaves, you can make leaf mold. Whether it’s a fancy compost bin, a homemade structure, or black plastic bags stashed in the garage — just add them, moisten, and leave them alone for at least 24 months. You’ll end up with a rich mulch you can add to garden beds to improve soil structure and water retention (leaf mold can hold up to 500 times its own weight in water). If you want the process to move along faster, shred them first and turn the pile every few months.

Other Recycling Tips

  • When raking, be sure to dispose of any leaves that are mildewed or moldy.
  • Compost your black walnut, butternut, camphor laurel, and eucalyptus before using as a mulch so their compounds have time to break down during the composting process. Otherwise, the compounds will interfere with other plant growth.
  • Rake your leaves onto a tarp and drag them to wherever you plan to store them, such as the compost bin, instead of using a wheelbarrow. The tarp can often hold more leaves and is much lighter than a wheelbarrow.


Always remember your backyard has dreams too, and it is our goal at Dogwood Landscaping to transform dreams into reality.