If only Autumn's gorgeous colors could last forever! Sadly, our seasonal eye candy is slowly disappearing, which means work for us to keep the landscaping well groomed. However, there are ways to put nature's gift to work for a little while longer. There are much better things you can do with autumn leaves than bag them, even if you're not an avid gardener.
Just running over them with a lawn mower a few times might shred them enough so that they filter down into the lawn, to the lawn's benefit.
If leaves are so abundant that they would smother the lawn, go ahead and rake them - let the kids have their way with them - then move them beneath your shrubs. A blanket of leaves there keeps the soil from washing away and exposing delicate feeder roots. That blanket of leaves also keeps the soil warmer in winter and cooler in summer.
The result: Your shrubs should grow and look better.
As far as nutrients, leaves are not much different in composition from much-touted horse manure. And as leaves decompose, they become increasingly able to sponge up water - something to think about in June as you haul out the hose again.
The fluffiness of leaves, as they decompose, also helps aerate the soil - something roots always appreciate.
Blanket the flower bed with a few inches of leaves, which will settle to perhaps an inch by spring. By this time next year, that layer will be almost gone and your soil will be ready for another dose. Tuck leaves right up around, but not on top of, poppy, delphinium, iris, coral bells and the few other perennials that do not like their crowns covered.
Yet another way to use leaves, anywhere in the garden, is to compost them first. A 6-foot cylinder of chicken wire or construction fencing can hold as many leaves as about 25 large, plastic trash bags, and that's before the leaves even begin to settle and decompose.
No reason to rush it, but if you did want to hurry the decomposition, sprinkle some high-nitrogen fertilizer, such as soybean meal, onto the leaves as you pile them up, and make sure the pile is moist throughout. Or you could shred the leaves. Or add leaves to your regular compost pile, where their high carbon content is a perfect complement to high-nitrogen kitchen scraps.
If you do bag autumn leaves, don't be surprised if some leaf-hungry gardener snatches up nature's valuable bounty before they are picked up as trash!