Recycle Your Leaves

Fall is here and before we know it the leaves will be falling as we transition from summer to winter. This year we would like to encourage you to consider recycling your leaves rather than piling them at the curb for city pick up.

In nature, leaves are left on the forest floor to be decomposed by worms, bacteria, and other soil organisms. The humus this process creates feeds nutrients to the trees, shrubs, and other plants in the forest. When you recycle leaves in your own yard, you help increase you soil health, feed your lawn and plants, and you help keep leaves out of storm drains and away from our streams where they would add nutrients and contribute to algae blooms.

Here are some ways to recycle leaves and increase your soil and plant health (for free!).


Most modern lawn mowers can mulch leaves into your lawn. Mulching of leaves is best done when the leaves are dry and there is less than an inch. So start early in the season! Start with the mower set at a 3-inch height. Remove bagging attachments and block off the chute on a rear-discharge machine, side discharge can remain. Run the mower while walking slowly over the lawn to give the blades time to shred up the leaves. If the remaining shreds are too large, repeat the process walking at a right angle to the first cut. Once finely shred, let the earthworms do the rest of the work. They will digest the leaf particles, pulling them down into the soil which will feed your lawn.


Shredded leaves can also be applied to your garden beds or around trees as mulch. Add a two to three inch layer. Make sure mulch is kept away from the trunk and stems of your trees and plants.

Fallen leaves are an important habitat for overwintering butterflies and moths. Learn more at xerces.org.


Shredded leaves can be added to your compost pile or bin. When mixed with grass clippings, the leaves help achieve the ideal ratio of green matter to brown matter (2:1).

Learn more about compost at cuyahogarecycles.org. They have two composting webinars in October (October 8th at 6 pm and October 21 at 2 pm).

Community Pick Up

Community leaf collection typically starts in November. Be sure to pile leaves on the tree lawn and not in the street. If you are concerned about your grass, call your community to find out what day leaf collection will occur and set out leaves the night before.

What Not to Do

Don’t pile leaves in the street.

Don’t dump leaves in storm drains.

Don’t pile leaves along streams.

Don’t pile leaves in conservation easements.

Recycling your leaves is a great way to promote healthy soil and plants in your yard. If you want to learn about more healthy habits for your yard, Cuyahoga SWCD has a Green Yards Healthy Homes Webinar available on demand. Go to cuyahogaswcd.org, Click on Programs, Presentations and Speakers Bureau, Green Yards and Healthy Homes.

Are you on facebook? If so check out this fun video Franklin SWCD made about what to do with your leaves!

Blog author: Elizabeth Hiser, Watershed Program Manager

Leave a comment


Sign Up

Get email updates from the Cuyahoga Soil & Water Conservation District.