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Instead of raking, change your perspective. Five ways to use leaves to help your lawn and garden.

Yellow, orange and gold dry leaves lay on the ground.
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iStockphoto
If you feel compelled to rake every last leaf on your lawn, think twice. Those dried and fallen leaves could help out in a five other ways and some involve zero raking.

This fall's foliage was a real show-stopper, despite trees in our region that may have had spongy moth infestation and dry conditions.

And now that all those leaves are on the ground, most folks choose to rake and bag them and perhaps haul them off to a recycling center.

But by simply shifting your perspective, you can view all those maple and oak tree leaves as free lawn and garden fertilizer and as a great compost ingredient!

Instead, try these five helpful uses for all those fallen leaves on your lawn.

If you have a light layer of leaves on top of your lawn, simply mow them. Chop them up with your mower and leave them right where they lay. It might look a bit messy for a week or so but eventually everything will decompose. The earthworms will eat the leaves which will in turn become food for the lawn trees.

If you have a lot of leaves on top of the lawn, try the pile-up method. First, choose a corner of your yard to erect a small chicken wire cage in, then gather the leaves up and then pile them inside the cage. Over time, the leaves will slowly break down. In a year or two, the decomposed leaves will turn into leaf mold. Leaf mold is a great compost-like additive you can use to supplement your garden.

Want more ideas for leaves? 5 Uses For Dead Leaves (Some Make Your Lawn Healthier!)

Another method is to chop the leaves up with your mower and collect them to spread over your annual flower and vegetable gardens. This layer of leaves will protect soil from eroding during the winter and protect vital soil microbes. Eventually, the leaf bits break down and become food for your plants next year.

You can also keep a couple of bags of dried leaves handy to add to kitchen scrap compost. The right recipe for good compost is a mix of green and brown materials. Dried leaves add just the right ingredient as kitchen scraps tend to be green and moist. By adding a handful of dried, brown leaves to your compost, you'll have a batch of fabulous compost by next summer.

Lastly, leaves can protect your plants. Roses and lavender plants appreciate a warm layer to overwinter. Add some of the chopped leaves to these plants and they'll survive to come back strong next year.

All Things Gardening listener, DeeDee has this question about her hibiscus.
Q: "I have a small hibiscus plant that I put in the ground this spring. Here we are in Vermont. To winterize it, do I have to dig it up and bring it inside? Or is there something I can do and leave it in the ground?" <br/>

Hibiscus is a great plant to have in the landscape and comes in two varieties: hardy and tropical.

The hardy hibiscus is the type that grows up from the ground every spring and then dies back to the ground. The tropical hibiscus, however, is not hardy here and needs to overwinter indoors.

To protect a tropical hibiscus this winter, first, put the plant in a pot and bring it closer to the house for a week or so. This serves as an adjustment period to being in a container and moving it closer to the house will help it adjust to lower light levels.

Next, vigorously prune the plant back by a third or so. And then slowly begin bringing the tropical hibiscus into the house. Do this by bringing it in one night and then back outdoors the next day. Do that for three or four nights. Eventually, bring the plant indoors full time.

Once inside, quarantine the hibiscus away from other plants in your house. This helps contain any potential infestation of aphids or mealy bugs. Next, place it in the sunniest, brightest place in your home.

The tropical hibiscus will not look particularly nice during its overwintering unless you can keep it under supplemental lighting. Expect its leaves to drop for the plant to not flower. But as long as you get it to survive until spring, you can move it back outside and your hibiscus will take off and start growing.

All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes.

You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling Vermont Public at 1-800-639-2192.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition with Vermont Public host Mary Williams Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch by tweeting us @vermontpublic. We've closed our comments. Read about ways to get in touch here.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered, Weekend Edition Saturday and Weekend Edition Sunday.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.