There's a lot to love about the fall.
Crisp, frosty mornings; fat, orange pumpkins; and of course, brisk winds that rustle through the trees and bring down swirling clouds of golden-crimson leaves.
Piles and piles of leaves.
Rotten leaves that stick in rooftop gutters, scattered leaves that litter walkways and soggy leaves that smother green lawns and kill grass.
If you're the one who has to clean up all those leaves, chances are you probably don't think there's so much to love about the fall after all.
Instead, you probably view autumn as the messiest, most labor-intensive gardening season of the year -- a time to curse every maple and elm within five blocks and to wonder once again what in the heck you are going to do with all those blasted leaves.
Well, don't take leave of your senses.
Dealing with leaves doesn't have to drive you up a tree. In fact, there are some uses for fallen leaves that will improve your lawn and garden.
Nourish the soil: The first is to use leaves as compost.
Compost, or humus, is decomposed organic matter that provides nutrients for soil; fallen, decaying leaves happen to make fabulous compost.
To create a compost pile using fallen leaves, first shred the leaves.
If leaves are not wet and not too thick, you may be able to chop them up with your lawnmower and then collect them in the lawnmower's grass collector.
If this isn't an option, you can use a chipper vac. This device looks like a lawnmower, costs about $700 to $2,000 and is designed to shred leaves and other lawn clippings lickety-split.
Once the leaves are shredded, pile them up, mix them with garden soil and then lightly moisten with a hose.
You can do this right in the garden where you want to integrate the compost, or you can create a separate compost pile somewhere else.
Regardless of where the pile is located, blend it often with a garden fork to keep it aerated and wet it down occasionally.
The result will be a rich, earthy compost in a matter of weeks and richer, healthier soil for planting flowers and vegetables in the spring.
Mulch: Fallen leaves also make great mulch, and using leaves that collect in your yard as mulch in flower beds and around trees and shrubs is a lot cheaper than buying bark mulch from a garden center.
Organic mulch reduces soil temperatures and slows evaporation of water from the soil. As the mulch breaks down, it improves soil by adding nutrients. Mulch also smothers weeds and prevents them from spreading.
Use your lawnmower, a shredder or a chipper vac to chop up leaves for use as mulch, then pack the shredded leaves down around trees and shrubs.
Cleanup: If you don't feel ambitious enough to make mulch or compost out of your yard's fallen leaves, you still need to clean them up and dispose of them.
Allowing leaves to lie around on the lawn will prevent light and air from reaching grass and cause the lawn to suffer. Add a little rain to the picture, and pretty soon you'll have clumps of slimy, wet leaves sticking everywhere, so get to work.
You can vacuum them up with a landscape vacuum machine, use a leaf blower to herd them into tidy piles, or simply rake them.
Although raking leaves might make you grumble, keep in mind that it is great exercise and a lot cheaper than going to the gym.
Disposal: Whatever you do, don't burn leaves. Burning leaves creates air pollution and might even be illegal where you live.
Also, don't put leaves in plastic trash bags and send them to the dump. Many community dumps are already too full, and bulky bags of leaves take up a lot of space.
Instead, consider shipping leaves off to your community's local waste district.
Some communities organize cleanup days when organic debris is collected and then composted by the local waste district. The compost is then used in area parks and playgrounds or sold to landscapers or gardeners. Check with your solid waste district office to see if there is a program like this in your neighborhood.
XSource: "Lawn Care for Dummies" by Lance Walheim and the editors of the National Gardening Association.