20 Uses for Fall Leaves Around the Yard and Home

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Fall Leaves

Fall has arrived in many parts of the country, certainly here in Western North Carolina.

The maples are starting to show some red and the sourwood trees have already taken on their burgundy hue. In some parts of the country fall has already hit while others are still waiting for cooler temperatures. But as the leaves color and start to fall, I’m left with the same question year after year. What do I do with all of them?

I have several different trees in my yard this year, from boxelder to catalpa to Chinese chestnut. And I have a huge curly willow. Luckily, that one has small leaves and they dry up quickly and really aren’t a problem. But the others, yeah, they really do pile up.

Ways to Use All Those Fall Leaves

Some options for the garden

1. Mulching is a great way to use up many of those leaves. If you intend to compost them, be sure to chop them up first with a leaf shredder or by running them over with a lawn mower a few times.

2. As you’re running them over, leave some of the smaller bits on your lawn. They’ll decompose quickly and feed your lawn.

3. You can create leaf mold, which contains many beneficial bacteria. Shred the leaves as before and pile into a chicken wire tube that you’ve created. Wet it down once in a while and let it sit until spring. Some leaves, like oak, take longer to decompose – up to three years.

4. You can make the same chicken wire tube and place it over cold sensitive plants. When I lived in Minnesota, we always covered our butterfly bushes this way. Place about 6 inches of leaves over the plant. In the spring, wait until thawed completely and gently rake to the bottom of the plant. You can remove the leaves and compost them or leave them for mulch.

5. Place a thick layer over cold hardy vegetables like potatoes and carrots. In many parts of the country you can harvest them all year, although you may need to push the snow aside!

6. You can shred the leaves and add directly to the soil in the fall, bypassing composting. By spring earthworms and bacteria will have done most of the work for you, adding much needed nutrients to the soil.

7. Bag some of the leaves and keep them in a dry place. Then in the spring you can use these for new plants as mulch to conserve water and keep weeds away.

Some options for the animals

8. Use leaves for animal litter. I have chickens and use a lot of my leaves for additional litter. Be sure there are no cherry leaves, as wilted cherry leaves can be poisonous to most animals.

9. Create a winter retreat. Pile up some sticks and logs and scatter leaves over them. During winter, this will become a welcome haven out of the wind and cold for animals. Raccoons, foxes, rabbits and birds can all make use of this. Be sure to position it away from your home so as not to invite them inside.

1o. Pile them up! Kids of all ages and even animals (like dogs and cats) love to play in a pile of fall leaves.

Anything else? Sure!

11. Bag leaves in those big orange bags and decorate with a black marker to look like a jack-o-lantern.

12. Take these same bags, or other bagged leaves, and place them around the foundation of your house, barn, or greenhouse for added insulation.

13. Take them to a community compost location. Many municipalities host leaf piles that turn into compost. This can then be used by members of the same community.

14. Burn them and use the ashes in your garden. For some, this is not an option as many areas now ban burning. But if you are able, it’s a handy way to do two things at once.

15. Stuff a scarecrow with leaves instead of straw.

16. Press leaves for fall art.

17. Use your pressed leaves to make a fall wreath with leaves, acorns, fall flowers, and pine cones.

18. Keep some dry leaves set aside for soaking up water should you have a flood. Compost them after use. (I recently had some water damage in the basement and used straw. Wish it would have come later so I could have used the leaves!)

19. Stuff a toilet paper tube with dry leaves for a cool fire starter.

20. Lay leaves in glycerin to preserve them. Here’s an easy recipe:

Preserved Fall Leaves

You will need:

  • fall leaves – fresh and pliable, not brittle
  • glass cake pan
  • clean rocks
  • liquid vegetable glycerin (find it here)
  • water

Wash and dry your leaves. Mix up a solution of 2 parts water and 1 part glycerin. Place this in the bottom of the cake pan. Fully submerge the leaves under the liquid and hold down with the rocks. Leave them for a few days. When they feel leathery, they’re done. When done, rinse off and pat dry. Use these in craft projects or fall decorations. They will stay preserved like this for a few years.

Have you used fall leaves in a unique way?


About Debra Maslowski

Debra is a master gardener, a certified herbalist, a natural living instructor, and more. She taught Matt and Betsy how to make soap so they decided to bring her on as a staff writer! Debra recently started an organic herb farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina. You can even purchase her handmade products on Amazon!

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  1. Jeri says

    I spread mulched leaves over my dormant vegetable beds to virtually eliminate weed growth until I am ready to plant again next spring and summer.

  2. Janelle says

    I have been using fallen leaves to make eco prints on paper and fabric. I soaked the cardstock in a solution of soda ash and alum for an hour then layer them with the leaves. I steamed them in a old pot with a lid for three hours, let it cool over night, and then brushed off the leaf matter and add that to the compost pile. The papers have the imprints of the leaves left behind and can make lovely writing paper or cards.