I have been greatly enjoying the yellow, peach, orange, red and brown leaves with this fall’s great tree leaf display. Leaves in your yard, driveway and flower beds are an organic resource to be used to keep your growing plants healthy. Here are the best ways to collect, breakdown and reuse the organic material in your fall leaves. Please don’t buy or use a noisy, gas-powered leaf blower to collect leaves, which can be damaging to your ears and produces both noise and air pollution to you and your neighbors. After two hours of use, a gas-powered lawnmower or leaf blower producing 80–85 decibels can cause hearing loss to the user or someone nearby.

Here are some options for reusing your leaves to take advantage of this free organic material your yard needs as fertilizer. As soon as tree leaves start accumulating in your lawn, continue to mow your lawn to cut up the leaves. Run your lawnmower over the leaves in your lawn once or twice, breaking them down into small pieces that will decay faster into fertilizer for your lawn’s improved growth next year. Then soil organisms including earthworms, earwigs and mites will break the cut leaves down into rich soil. You can avoid spending money on chemical or organic fertilizer if you leave the cut-up organic matter around the base of the grass stems.

Flower beds and gardens need to be protected against extreme changes in temperature and moisture over the winter. Collect leaves with a wide, flexible, metal rake and move them around your shrubs and perennial flower beds after the first frost. If you want the leaves to avoid being blown off by the wind and break down faster, run the lawnmower over them once or twice. To turn our sandy soil into a productive vegetable garden, my husband has collected bags of leaves or raked the neighbor’s leaf piles into our garden plot each fall. We spread the leaves up to 6 inches high over the vegetable garden where rain compresses them, and they prevent soil from washing away, plus insulate the soil. Instead of digging or rototilling leaves into the garden, we push the leaves aside to plant rows of vegetable seeds and leave the protective leaf layer on most of the garden.

The other place leaves will benefit your gardens is to rake them around the perennial flowers and shrubs. This cover keeps out light and will slow any weed formation in the spring and summer if left between the flowering plants. Mulch also prevents the sun from drying out the soil and keeps the flowers moist through the growing season. Keeping winter mulch on our vegetable garden soils through the growing season slowed water evaporation by the sun and allowed much less frequent watering during dry periods.

If you have started a compost pile for your food waste, chopped leaves are the best carbonaceous material now conveniently available to make your compost pile work better. If you run a lawnmower over your leaves to chop them up, you will speed up the composting process. Since whole leaves take up to two years to compost, I would create a separate pile for whole leaves and add garden weeds to provide the nitrogen needed to create effective composting.

The most effective composting occurs with much more yellow material than green food scraps. A ratio of 20–30 parts mulch hay, dried grass or sawdust in layers with one part green material makes the best compost. If your compost pile consists only of food scraps, it probably isn’t breaking down very effectively with too much nitrogen in the mix. Try balling up single sheets of old newspapers and adding a two-papers-high layer between every 4 inches of food waste. Adding as much loose paper as possible will get closer to the 20-1 to 30-1 ideal yellow-to-green composting ratio. Regular mixing with a spade speeds up the process but isn’t necessary since the composting will just happen a bit slower. We haven’t bothered to stir our pile unless we want more fertilizer later that season.

Residents of Topsham, Bath and Brunswick can also take their leaves to be composted at the municipal composting sites, which can be recycled as compost for town or commercial landscaping projects. From 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every Saturday, Brunswick accepts residents’ paper-bagged or loose grass, leaves and wood waste at the town collection area at the processing facility located at 49 Graham Road off Lisbon Road northwest of Brunswick.

Bath is offering all residents door-to-door pickup on Oct. 23 and 24, and again on Nov. 13 and 14. Residents should bag leaves in brown paper and leave on the curb the night before the first pickup date. Bath residents can also bring loose leaves or paper bags of leaves directly to the landfill during regular hours. Topsham residents can bring leaves, grass clippings or wood waste for composting at Townsend Road off Foreside Road from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Nancy Chandler studied Animal Behavior and Anthropology at Stanford University, then received her master’s in biology education in her home state of North Carolina at U.N.C. Chapel Hill. She is passionate about teaching energy conservation and hopes to get you thinking about how to use energy use efficiently to save both money and reduce greenhouse warming gases.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.