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Fall Leaves — Manna or Mess?

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Here in the Northeast, we are blessed with a bounty of deciduous trees but that does mean piles of fallen leaves come October and November.

What to do?

If you can* - leave some leaves where they fall.

*Clearly, this doesn't apply to street trees and others whose leaves will wash into the street and clog storm drains if not managed.

  • But the leaves of other trees, say in a backyard, can be a real boon for the right kind of wildlife.

  • According to the Xerces Society, the vast majority of butterflies and moths overwinter in the landscape as an egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, or adult and for our region that means these butterflies use leaf litter for winter cover.

Relocate fallen leaves - to a backyard Leaf Bin or bagged for Curbside Composting
  • The City will collect leaves as part of its Curbside Compost collection. Just make sure to use clear plastic bags or put them in labeled Compost bins.

  • Even better, build or buy a long lasting Leaf Bin and make your own precious Leaf Mold. The secret to creating Leaf Mold - a valuable soil amendment similar to peat moss - is to add fallen leaves in one or two inch layers and THOROUGHLY saturate the dried leaves with water.

  • For an even easier solution: stuff a black garbage bag with leaves and fill it with water. After an hour or so, punch holes in the bottom of the bag to allow the water to drain. In 9 to 10 months, you should have Leaf Mold.

Shredded leaves make great compost and garden mulch
  • If you compost at home, you know having enough carbon rich or brown materials to balance out kitchen waste is a real challenge. Shredded leaves turbo boost compost and also make a nice mulch around vegetables, flowers and shrubs.

  • For those of you in Brooklyn, the Pollinators shred leaves for neighbors each November.

  • You can also use a weed whacker in a container of very dry leaves for much the same result.

Caution - beware of overwintering piles of DRY leaves

We want to only create homes for beneficial wildlife like butterflies and moths. Piles of DRY leaves, unlike the wet ones in Leaf Mold Bins or piles, run the risk of being used by rats and other rodents.

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