I have a huge maple tree at the end of my driveway and seemingly overnight all the leaves fell off at once. They’re beautiful and crunchy now (and swirling in the wind like little sun tornados) but it won’t be long before they’re a globby mess smothering the grass and tracking into the house like slimy leaf pancakes on the bottom of my shoes. The local news has been going over the city’s yard waste laws and encouraging people to bag their leaves and set them on the curb for trash pick-up but I hate the idea of sending so much natural material to the stifling and decidedly unnatural environment of the landfill. Here are three other options that are not only better for the planet but easier on you too.

Use them to mulch around trees and flowerbeds Spread a layer of leaves 2 or 3 inches deep over flower beds, around trees and on the garden to help the soil retain moisture, regain nutrients, and discourage weed growth next spring. Just be sure to leave plenty of space around tree trunks and plant stems and if you can shred the leaves first (a bagging lawn mower works beautifully) to help them break down faster.

Compost them If you don’t already have a compost pile the fall is as great a time as any to start one — all you need are some leaves, grass clippings, and a few kitchen scraps like banana peels, eggshells, and coffee grounds. You can be as casual or as serious about it as you like, click here for an easy step by step guide on getting a compost pile started.

Mow them over Forget raking and bagging, just mow the lawn like you normally would, leaves and all, but with the bag removed and a mulching blade in place (if you have one, it’s not required). The chopped up bits will create a healthy organic fertilizer and bonus: you won’t have to drag bags of leaves to the curb on garbage day.

I plan to do a little of each but most of my leaves will probably get raked into the garden — if I get them in there thick enough they’ll make for an awesome weed mat in the spring.  : )

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