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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Leaves are not only pretty but a valuable resource as well

STILLWATER, Okla. – The brilliant orange, red and yellow leaves have certainly been a treat for Oklahomans as they travel through the state enjoying the fall foliage. The extra moisture and milder temperatures this summer helped ensure the state would be bathed in bright fall colors this year.

However, as beautiful as the leaves are on the trees, having them pile up in your yard can cause some extra work for homeowners, said David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension consumer horticulture specialist.

“The last couple of summers were pretty brutal and many of the leaves fell early. But this year we’ve seen an explosion of color around the state and the leaves have stayed on the trees longer,” Hillock said. “But with the cooler weather settling in and the leaves finally beginning to fall, it’s time for homeowners to take action.”

When it comes to fall leaves, many people simply rake and bag them. However, by doing this, homeowners can be missing out on a valuable garden resource right at their fingertips. Finding a way to use the leaves in your landscape can save money as well as valuable landfill space.

One way to use the leaves is to shred them and use them in a compost pile. Leaves can take a few months or up to a couple of years to compost by themselves. To speed up the process and have a good finished product, add nitrogen sources such as green plant material or fertilizer, make sure there is enough moisture and turn the leaves often to ensure a good supply of oxygen.

Hillock said the leaves also can be used as mulch for shrubs and trees in the landscape. A layer of two to three inches is sufficient.

“Homeowners also can till the leaves into a vacant vegetable garden plot to improve aeration and drainage,” he said. “Doing this in the fall will allow enough time for the leaves to decompose before it’s time to plant your spring garden.”

For those who may not have the time to rake leaves, mowing the leaves works well, too. Simply attach the bagging unit to the mower to collect the shredded leaves. The chopped leaves are then ready to use as mulch or be put into a composting bin.

Even if homeowners do not have a garden and have no need to use the leaves as mulch, they can still be a valuable resource.

“Put your lawn mower on the mulching setting and mow normally,” Hillock said. “The chopped leaves are returned to the soil and provide important organic matter and nutrients.”

Make sure the leaves are dry before attempting any type of shredding or mowing. Damp leaves can clog gardening tools such as shredders, vacuums or choppers.


Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating: The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity employer.

Trisha Gedon
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
136 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK  74078
405-744-3625 (phone)
405-744-5739 (fax)

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078