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What to Do with Fall Leaves

Green Alternatives to Burning That Help Keep Our Air Clean

A man mows through a thick layer of fall leaves on his lawn
Shredding your leaves with a mulching
mower will reduce their volume and
speed up decomposition time.

Option 1: Create Valuable Compost from Your Leaves

A big pile of leaves will decompose, but very slowly. To speed things up, see our home composting guide and "Everything you wanted to know about home composting" (Important links at right).

Leaf volume and decomposition time can be greatly reduced by shredding. Rake dry leaves into low piles and mow over them several times with a mulching mower. Up to ¾" deep of shredded leaves can be applied to your lawn. You can add shredded leaves to your compost pile, and use the compost in the spring.




Option 2: Use Leaves as Mulch

Perennial shade garden
This healthy and beautiful garden is mulched
with composted leaves from the
surrounding forest.

In the vegetable garden

  • Use leaves to cover bare soil in your vegetable garden during the winter and to protect cold-hardy vegetables like carrots, kale, leeks and beets for extended winter harvest. In the spring, you can turn the leaves into the soil.
  • Decaying leaves use up soil nitrogen, so add an organic source of slow-release nitrogen, like composted animal manure, before planting.

In the flower garden

  • Shredded leaves make good mulch for garden beds and are less likely to blow around. The leaves will gradually turn into compost, enriching your soil.
  • If you prefer the look of bark mulch, cover bare soil with shredded leaves first, then a top layer of bark mulch.
  • Keep total mulch depth to three inches or less and don't let mulch touch tree trunks or the base of shrubs as this can encourage pests and disease.

Option 3: Municipal Composting

A municipal compost pile
Some communities compost yard waste
and allow residents to take the finished
compost.

Your community may offer curbside collection of leaves, or allow residents to bring leaves to a central location. Leaves are then composted and the compost made available to the public. Ask your local recycling coordinator if this is an option in your community as not all landfills will accept yard waste.

Not an Option: Burning

It is illegal to burn leaves anywhere in New York State. Brush of a certain size may be burned. See the burning regulations FAQs for details.

What's Wrong with Burning?

  • The smoke from burning leaves contains dangerous compounds.
  • The smoke can irritate anyone's lungs, but it is especially harmful to children, the elderly and anyone with respiratory or cardiovascular disease.
  • Any outdoor fire can spark an accidental brush, forest or house fire.

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