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Create gardener’s “gold” from falling leaves

Are you looking at a growing pile of fallen leaves? Here’s how to take advantage of this season’s gardener’s “gold,” get free nutrients for next year’s garden, and help slow climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil.

“This leaf season offers an opportunity to take action to slow global warming in our own yards,” says Marty Kraft, organizer of Johnson-Su Composter workshops in the KC metro area. “As we rediscover the incredible role of microbial life in our soil, we realize how important it is for us to do whatever we can to support them.”

Many routine ways of managing yards have destroyed the organic portion of our soil and poisoned the microbial community. The organic matter acts like a sponge to hold water and provide nutrients to plants. Plant’s roots provide a home and food for the microbes, and in exchange, receive nutrients that those same microbes make available. 

“When we spray chemicals and pave over green spaces, we poison the microbes, which makes the crops desperate for water and food,” Kraft explains. “So we add more chemicals. When the plants die, there are no microbes to turn them back into soil.”

Composting leaves creates organic matter and help restore that vital microbial community, including fungi which weave that living carpet together, storing water and nutrients. 

“This carpet provides the base to allow plants to store carbon,” said Kraft. “The leaves we compost today will next year make a special treatment for our soils that will sequester carbon.“

Here are options for putting your trees’ falling leaves back into the soil:

Replenish your lawn 

One of the easiest ways to reap the benefit of leaves is to leave them on the lawn and mow over them. This can be accomplished with up to an inch of fallen leaves at a time. Mulched leaves and grass clippings return nutrients to the soil and can eliminate the need for fertilizing. 

Start a backyard compost

An excess of leaves and yard waste can be composted with food waste in a backyard compost pile. The Johnson County K-State Research and Extension recommends composting yard waste to reduce the amount of waste entering landfills and for a finished compost that improves garden and landscape soils. There are many different types of compost bins and tips for composting that can be found at Johnson County K-State Research and Extension and Bridging The Gap.

Another option is the Johnson-Su method of composting that helps restore the microbes in soil making it a sponge to absorb carbon from the atmosphere — which is needed by the plants and can help slow climate change. Learn more about this method of composting at the Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems. Local organizers in Kansas City have a goal of building 500 new compost bioreactors this fall. Learn how to build a Johnson-Su composter or volunteer to help at or contact Kraft at 816-400-2277 or [email protected] for more information.

Just leave them

You can leave the fallen leaves in garden beds and around foundation plantings as an extra protection against harsh winter weather. It also provides a habitat for beneficial insects and adds compost nutrients to the soil. However, most garden experts recommend cleaning up vegetable beds of dead growth to prevent disease on next year’s crop. This should be composted in a city collection where higher heat will kill pathogens.

Use city yard waste collections

If your trees are large and leaf piles are high, take advantage of city services that will collect and compost them for you. Many local cities are now collecting leaf and brush waste that will be sent to large composting sites and turned into mulch and compost. For more information, contact your city or county directly, or check for collection facilities at Recycle Spot.

Kansas City, MO

Missouri Organic Recycling receives all of the yard waste collected in Kansas City, MO. It is composted and then available for sale to residents. 

Curbside collection with be held November 1 – 5 in central Kansas City, November 15 – 19 in south Kansas City and November 29 – December 3 in Kansas City North. Residents can also drop off brush for free every Saturdays through January 55 at:

* 1815 N. Chouteau Trafficway

* 10301 Raytown Road 

* 11660 N. Main Street

For more drop-off information, go to City of KCMO.


Johnson County, KS

You can find composting tips at Johnson County Yard & Composting. Residents can drop off yard waste with some local businesses, including: 

Suburban Lawn and Garden 

139th and Wyandotte, Kansas City, MO


Deffenbaugh Industries 

I-435 and Holiday Drive, Shawnee, KS


Missouri Organic Recycling
2701 Roe Lane, Kansas City, KS (I-35 and Roe)
Hours: 9-5pm Monday-Saturday

City of Olathe Composting (for Olathe residents only)

127th and Hedge Lane, Olathe, KS


Wyandotte County Unified Government, KS

The Wyandotte Recycling & Yard Waste Center collects yard waste placed in lawn bags during regular weekly trash pickup, or it can be dropped off at no charge at the center at 

17955 Holliday Drive, Shawnee, KS.

Protect our waterways

When falling, crunchy leaves are everywhere, it’s easy to see “if it’s on the ground, it’s in our water.” If left alone, leaves can block storm drains and contribute to water quality issues. So, don’t let them collect near waterways, curbs or drains.

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