Fallen leaves and grass clippings contain lots of nutrients. When you remove them from your yard and throw them away, you’re also removing all of the nutrients they’ve stored and will need to replenish the system’s supply with fertilizer. Instead of sending this yard debris to the landfill, consider recycling it and putting it to better use.
Leave them on your lawn after mowing instead of bagging them. If you enjoy short grass and mow your lawn frequently, odds are your clippings are not long or dense. Short grass clippings can be recycled by simply leaving them be after cutting and allowing them to naturally break down. The amount of nutrients they return to the soil is about equal to one fertilizer application, which saves you both time and money! Just make sure that the clippings are evenly distributed over your grass and are not clumped up–dense clumps (or cuttings that are quite long) can trap moisture against your turf and cause fungal growth, which is not what you want when aiming for a healthy, green lawn.
If you would prefer that the clippings not remain on your lawn long enough to break down, you can gather them up (or mow with the bag on) and use them to mulch your garden beds. Leaves, grass clippings, and cuttings from herbaceous plants laid over the soil will help keep it cool and moist, and act as a small fertilizer treatment for the garden beds as they decompose.
Branches and twigs are also great candidates for at-home recycling. After a big pruning job, you can rent a small chipper and turn those solid pieces into a wood mulch that can be used on pathways or in garden beds. Chipping them down also makes the limbs easier to transport. Invite your neighbors to bring their wood pieces as well and host a “chipping party” so that everyone can benefit.
If you do not feel like getting a chipper, repurpose branches, vines, and twigs to use around your garden. Branches can be secured together to form a teepee or trellis for climbing plants, pliable saplings can be bent into an arbor for an adorable landscape accessory, and small twigs can be woven for small fencing or used to support top-heavy plants. Larger limbs can be used to line a bed or walkway as natural edging. Gather some twigs and branches in an area where they can dry out so that you can use them as spectacular kindling for an outdoor fire.
Of course, you can always compost these natural plant materials (so long as they have not been treated with chemicals). If you have a compost bin, toss in your clippings and leaves along with any plant-based food scraps you have from your kitchen. Just be sure to avoid hard materials like branches that will take too long to break down, and never put dairy, meat, or fat into a backyard compost bin. Avoid adding invasive plants or weeds to your compost as well; the seeds will just germinate and spread the plant when you later use the compost.