The most common thing people can do with their leaves is compost them. This is the process of collecting your leaves in piles along with other organic yard waste and letting them break down over time naturally. It’s best to aim for a mixture of both green (wet) and brown (dry) organic wastes for the fastest and easiest breakdown of materials. Some people like to put their piles in a confined space, like a wooden box or plastic barrel, and others simply make piles in an area near their vegetable or flower gardens. The key, however, is to turn the compost periodically to aide in the breakdown process. Adding compost to your soils can increase the fertility and organic matter, which in turn will help in many other areas, such as soil tilth, soil microbial health, water infiltration, decreased compaction, and more.
Another potential use for leaves is as a weed suppressant. Either chopped or whole leaves can be spread around plants to help shade and control weed emergence in the Spring. Since the leaves do not contain weed seeds typically, you won’t be adding any new seed to your planting environment. If the area you’re spreading leaves in is open to windy conditions, I find that chopped leaves do better at staying in place. However, either form of leaves will work! Caution: One thing to note is that walnut leaves, limbs, and nuts can have an adverse effect on some plants. These are toxic to tomatoes, potatoes, blackberries, and several others. Be aware of what is in your leaf matter and what plants you spread it around. For more information, check here!
Mow Over the Leaves
Sometimes the easiest option is to just mow over the leaves several times as they fall throughout the season, allowing them to become part of the existing soil organic matter. The key to this method is to keep up with the mowing/chopping process before the leaf layer becomes too thick. If you have a heavy amount of leaves this may not be a viable option. A compromise might be to mow over the leaves the first pass without the bag attachment, and then mowing a second pass with it attached. This will allow you to pick up the bulk of the bigger leaf pieces while allowing some of the smaller chopped pieces to work down into the grass canopy.
Moisture Retention and Protection
An additional option would be to chop the leaves and then spread them around various plants to aide them through the winter months. The chopped leaves will help retain moisture and warmth around sensitive plants. It is easy to forget that winter months can be very dry for plants. Additionally, freeze-thaw cycles can damage sensitive shallow roots of certain plants. Adding chopped leaves as an insulator can help protect them from this.
Store Root Vegetables
Although this is not as common, you can use leaves as an insulation in areas where you store root crops in. Long ago, many farms had a root cellar, where the temperature was cool throughout the winter but never dropped below freezing. Typically this was an outside structure with a door leading to an excavated area slightly below ground level. Root crops could be placed in there in layers, with fresh fallen leaves spread between each layer, and then over the top as a suitable natural insulation. Some gardeners still practice this.
Haul Them Away
One final potion is to have the leaves hauled away or take them somewhere yourself. Many communities in Hamilton County have pick-up services or places you can take your leaves. There are also commercial places that will accept them for composting purposes. We have listed some options below, although this may not be a complete and exhaustive list for the county. If your city isn't listed or you live outside of city limits, see your garbage contractor for more information.