Do you ever wonder what to do with the dead leaves that accumulate on your lawn? Rather than throw them in the garbage, use them to protect your plants or to fertilize the ground. When sent to dumps, they produce methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. If you want to get rid of them, do it responsibly.

Protect plants in the winter
When placed around plants, dead leaves provide excellent protection during the winter. You just have to place the leaves around the plants without piling them up, so that air can circulate. In windy places, a nylon net fastened to the ground with stakes keeps them covered and prevents them from blowing away. It’s important to gather dead leaves as soon as possible after they fall, before they start rotting.

Convert leaves into humus
Another simple way to use dead leaves is to let them change into humus. In an isolated part of the garden, pile them up and wet them. Then trample on the pile and add a few shovelfuls of good soil. Repeat this operation each time you add leaves. In the spring, they will be decomposed and will have turned into good nourishing humus that you can spread at the feet of bushes and trees or in the garden.

Make your own fertilizer
Dead leaves also provide the lawn with added organic material. Pass the lawnmower slowly over the leaves as they fall so as to shred them. To make them decompose more quickly, use a mulching mower that will cut them up into smaller pieces. Then spread the pieces to make them disappear into the lawn.

Dead leaves can also become an ingredient in a good compost, which is better than chemical fertilizer. Compost nourishes plants, preserves moisture in the soil, helps spread fertilizer, facilitates weeding, attracts worms and helps prevent diseases.

Avoid recovering leaves that are sprinkled with black spots: these normally indicate the presence of mushroom spores. Since these spores survive the domestic composting process, they could contaminate your compost and, eventually, your plants. Also, avoid incorporating walnut or oak leaves in your compost: they contain tannins that harm decomposer organisms.

Collect the leaves in bags and keep them aside, away from the rain and snow. You can add them gradually to the compost. Note that it is preferable to shred the leaves before adding them as dry matter in the composter.

Keep your leaves for curbside recycling
If you prefer to get rid of dead leaves, do it when there’s a separate collection. These collections are organized in the autumn in many municipalities to recycle or compost plant residues.

Watch your local newspapers or your municipality’s website. Collections are usually announced there. Depending on the municipality, leaves must be placed in garbage cans, rigid reusable containers, cardboard boxes or biodegradable paper bags. Transparent or orange plastic bags may also be accepted in some places.

Avoid burning them
Open-air burning of trash is bad for the environment and for the health of those exposed to the smoke. Open-air burning refers to burning trash in barrels, out in the open, in outdoor or wood-burning stoves or in fireplaces. Many Canadian municipalities prohibit this practice or limit the types of material that can be burned.

Other municipalities issue burning permits while promoting safer alternatives, such as those presented above.