If you decide to let nature take its course, letting leaves lie
brings benefits and some problems. Many of the benefits are
associated with your labor, or lack of it. The major non-labor
benefit is when leaves collect in flower beds and around shrubs
to provide a mulch for those plants. Problems generally develop
where deep piles of leaves may smother grass or harbor diseases,
causing large dead areas to deal with next spring. Of course, if
you are the only resident in a neighborhood who doesn't rake
leaves, you may be talked about at many get-togethers this fall.
Removing leaves is generally done by raking or bagging with a
mower attachment. This makes your lawn look neat, prevents
problems for lawns and gives you a workout if you are manually
raking. The main problems are the time, labor and disposal of
the leaves when they are piled.
Chopping leaves means reducing the size. Benefits include
less smothering, quicker breakdown and less labor. The main
drawback comes with deep piles that still should be removed
because of trouble in shredding and smothering.
One thing to consider is the type of leaves. There is a huge
difference in oak leaves and silver maple leaves. It's difficult
to have smothering problems with oak leaves, while silver maple
leaves may smother with a very thin layer. These green leaves
will tend to smother more than the dry, rigid types will. Add to
this the very wet conditions of leaves and soils, and we will
have to wait for things to dry out a little bit before being
able to chop effectively.
What do you do with the leaves you've accumulated? There are
several possibilities. Many municipalities, Lincoln included,
prohibit burning for the most part. Besides the fire risk, the
respiratory issues for affected people can be life-threatening.
Raking leaves into the street, unless requested by the city for
cleanup, usually results in clogging storm sewers. Options
remaining include composting, using as a mulch, tilling into
garden and bed areas, and hauling to the city landscape
recycling dump. There may even be some private collection
services that will take bagged or bulk leaves to a recycling
Partial composting, and the subsequent use as a mulch, is one
of the best solutions. Simply construct an enclosure at least 2
feet cubed, place leaves in it, and cover the top with hardware
cloth or wire laid on it and weighted down. The resulting mulch
may be used next spring on flower beds, gardens, around trees
and shrubs, or spread back on gardens or lawns.
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More information on recycling leaves can be found online at
One thing to consider is removing the leaves from around the
foundation of the house. The decaying leaves provide a hiding place
or food sources for nuisance pests such as ladybugs and millipedes.
The removal from directly around the house may reduce the number of
these insects making their way into your home.
The warm weather last week brought about problems with Asian
ladybugs. We will continue to have the same kinds of problems each
warm, sunny day throughout the fall. Add to the ladybugs, box elder
beetles, millipedes and a few others, and it may seem like you are
The ladybug population built up to feed on soybean aphids, among
other food species, and now those food supplies are gone. What do
the ladybugs do? They look for other food and try to capture warmth
when they can.
If they become more than you can take, you can spray areas with
an insecticide such as permethrin, bifenthrin or carbaryl. It will
eventually thin them out; just don't expect the insects to die right
away. Foundation treatments are always good in the fall to help
prevent them from entering the home. Inside the house, the vacuum
cleaner or aerosols for flying insects will help.
University of Illinois Extension, Logan County]