October is a wondrous month of great change in the backyard. Thousands of leaves that devoted warm months harvesting solar energy now become free and fun soil builders.

Fall’s shortened days cause backyard elm, maple, oak and other trees to hang it up for the season. Green chlorophyll disappears revealing reds, yellows and browns that were there all summer but were masked by verdant green. Soon puffs of breeze bring dry leaves swirling to the ground.

We can perceive October’s leaf fall two ways. It’s either a season of drudgery or harvest of a free, organic and bountiful resource.

Raking, bagging and stacking zillions of leaves on the curb for the city to cart away is drudgery that gives away a precious resource.

Better to view leaves as wondrous tree gifts. Those multitudes of mini solar collectors are rich in carbon destined to become topsoil. All humans need do is enjoy and appreciate them and perhaps corral leaves so they won’t blow into the neighbor’s yard.

Kids love leaves. Have them help rake them into a dry pile in the center of the yard. Then pretend you’re a ground hog and burrow under the nearly weightless mound. Just make sure the kids don’t play in leaves stacked in the street for pickup! A car could plow through them and cause a tragedy.

All leaves decompose. Look closely and notice that the leaves of maples, elms, ashes and locusts tend to be flat and make a mat on the ground that soon absorbs moisture. They rot fairly fast. In contrast oak and hickory leaves curl to allow air to circulate under them when on the ground. They stay dry and resist rotting but eventually turn into humus.

Leaves make excellent compost material but need nitrogen to speed decomposition. Alternate layers of leaves with manure in the bin this fall and pitchfork out wonderful compost when gardening season starts next spring.

An easier way to put the annual leaf harvest to good use is to mulch them. Simply pile layers of leaves around young trees, shrubs and even in the garden, then wet them down so they don’t blow. Most likely they won’t be rotted away next spring but will hold moisture in the soil and reduce weed growth most of next summer. A year from now they will have been miraculously transformed into humus.

Leaves are wondrous, fun and a handy, free resource. Enjoy them this fall and thank your trees for sharing their organic solar collectors.

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