The Great Descent, a.k.a. Fall
Fall has always been a favorite of mine. The relief from higher summer temperatures plays a part, no doubt, but the other parts are sensory/aesthetic: the crispness of the air, the angle of the sun, temperatures low enough to justify roasting hotdogs on sticks, more birds at the feeder, stomping through the leaves...oh, yeah. That's probably my favorite part--the leaves!
Lots of my neighbors work to rid their yards of the fallen leaves. They rake or blow them into piles and set them out for the city to collect. We're too greedy for that. We see leaves and think: Mulch! Compost! Some leaves are unsuitable for mulching--in our case, that would be the black walnut leaves and stems. The stems, for the most part, we collect and add to the street collection pile. The leaves can be ground up with the lawn mower and then composted, but that particular compost should never be used on the vegetable garden. We keep two compost bins--one which is used for the vegetable garden and one that is dedicated to landscape plants. (All of which, in our yard, are "walnut tolerant." To find out why, check this earlier
.) Other "problem" leaves are live oak, holly or magnolia--in that they are difficult to break down unless you cheat. We always cheat.
Throughout late summer and fall, we use a mulching mower and a bag. Sometimes the collected and minced leaf matter (both tree and grass) is deposited directly into one of the two compost bins. Sometimes it is dumped as mulch on a needy bed. The exception is pine needles. We have white pines bordering the property and their needles are a delightful color. These get raked and used to "top dress" the mulched bed directly beneath them. Acid-loving plants like azalea, rhododendron, mountain laurel and daylilies are planted here. Like magnolia leaves, pine needles can take a while to break down unless they are subjected to physical "trauma" like the mower (or cars driving over them)--a process which exposes more surfaces to the microorganisms that will munch them down into Great Dirt.
If you have a large magnolia tree, the temptation would certainly be to just bag up those leaves and get rid of them. They are a hassle, and can be slippery to walk on--a danger many folks don't need. If possible, however, try the mow-them-into-mulch method and then dump the concoction directly under the magnolia. Chopped up with a mulching mower, these leaves can help to return the trace elements the tree needs back to the topsoil. Any grass included with the shredded leaves will only help--grass is high in nitrogen, while the leaves are high in carbon. Carbon alone will take much longer to break down in a compost bin (that's why they always tell you to add some "green"). If the magnolia leaves are too much, just use the same method with your other leaves. The mower should be able to handle them with no trouble at all.
Some leaves break down really easily and can just be raked into the beds around your trees. In our yard, maple and poplar qualify. For more precise details on which leaves make great compost, check out
Now. Let's be clear. If you have kids, then obviously your first step should be to rake everything into one big pile and let the chaos begin. When they get tired of all the jumping, convert the little mongrels into kicking machines--spreading everything back out again so you can tidy the yard by mowing. Be sure to take pictures!