Leaves do everything right. They raise the spirits when they fill out the trees after a long Maine winter. They absorb sunlight that feeds the tree. Birds find privacy among the foliage. They shade us in the summer, and they are beautiful. Of course, they also benefit the earth when allowed to decompose on the ground.

Then why do we want to get rid of them so quickly after they fall? Yes, they will smother and, therefore, damage a lawn if left unraked, and that will be unsightly. For some of us, however, less lawn might be a good thing, allowing more room for vegetable or flower gardens.

Consider that perhaps there’s much too much emphasis on emerald green, weed-free lawns. (Weed-free means chemical laden.) Less lawn equals less mowing, and I’m all for that. Besides, simply letting weeds and brush grow provides for more wildlife habitat by creating hiding and nesting places for the creatures that live in urban environments. Diversity never hurts.

Many people, however, have a different set of aesthetics, and some neighbors might take a very dim view if they see a rogue leaf left on your lawn. Out of respect for our neighbors, we need to keep things neat.

OK, then what do we do about all those fallen leaves?

You could compost the leaves, which will make an excellent fertilizer, but this requires a bin, a layering of added materials and periodic attention. Instead, you could make leaf mold if you have the space.


It’s really easy to make leaf mold: Simply rake the leaves into a pile, maybe on the corner of your property, and forget about it. Just leave them alone. If you need worms for fishing or for your garden, look in your leaf pile when it starts to decompose, and you’ll find them there.

Leaves take a long time to break down, so be patient. If grass clippings get mixed in, so much the better because the nitrogen in grass will hasten the decomposition of the leaves. After a couple of years, your leaf pile will become leaf mold, and that’s wonderful stuff to add to your gardens. No, the mold is not great fertilizer, but added to garden soil it becomes an excellent soil amendment.

Leaf mold allows the soil to retain much more moisture, and leaf mold certainly makes it easier to dig in the garden. This is especially true in our native Maine clay soil. Leaf mold also makes excellent mulch that you can spread on your garden paths and between flowers and vegetables. If you don’t have a garden, place the mold around shrubberies or the trees from which they fell. They would gladly accept the return.

To speed up the leaf mold process, you could chop up the leaves with your power lawn mower or some other device, but what’s the rush? We burn too much fossil fuel as it is. Let nature do its work in its own time.

If you have no interest in making leaf mold, you could mow over your fallen leaves several times right on the lawn where they drop. Leaf particles will fall between the blades of grass and not smother your lawn.

The whole point here is to use this wonderful resource right where you live instead of expecting municipal services to dispose of leaves for us. Cities should consider getting out of the leaf collecting business because there are better things they can do with their resources, such as helping folks to create community gardens, as the city of Waterville has done.

If you simply can’t wait for your leaves to break down, or you don’t have time to create this wonderful soil amendment, those who live in the Waterville area have easy access to leaf mold with the support of public works departments in Winslow and Waterville, which collect leaves each fall. Take pails and a shovel to the interstate underpass on Quarry Road in Waterville, where you should find a large pile of leaf mold. It’s free for the taking, so help yourself and your garden.

Stu Silverstein is a founding member of Sustain Mid Maine Coalition and serves on its Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Team. Sustain Mid Maine Coalition is a grassroots organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the people of central Maine. For more information, visit www.sustainmidmaine.org.

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