Once upon a time winter was announced by the smell of burning leaves. We would rake the leaves into a large pile, jump into them a time or two for fun, and then burn them. For most of us, those days are gone because of air pollution concerns, global warming, and burning restrictions.

Some people will bag their leaves to send to the landfill. However, because these wastes make up to 20 percent of the total wastes disposed, many communities are prohibiting the dumping of lawn wastes. More progressive cities separate the lawn wastes and make compost that they sell back to the taxpayer.

Mowing the leaves in place is the easiest and most simple means of disposal. Some folks seem to think that leaving the leaves on the lawn will insulate the grass from winter kill and keep down winter weeds. The more likely outcome of this practice is an increase in turf disease problems. The best thing to do is "mow and mulch" the leaves into the grass or rake and remove.

Excellent results are obtained by using a mulching mower that cuts and recuts leaves several times. The smaller the pieces, the quicker the microbes can break down the leaves.

You may need to make two or more passes over larger tree leaves to get a finely shredded product.

I find it easier to not wait until all the leaves are off the trees and on the ground. The deeper the layer, the more difficult it is to get them all shredded.

If you have a garden area, place a layer of leaves, shredded or unshredded, over the surface of the soil and let them decompose in place. Before you prepare you garden next spring, you can also rototill or disc the layer of leaves into the soil. The decomposing leaves will help sandy soil retail water and will relieve compaction in clay soils.

Another great way to deal with excess leaves is to use them as mulch. They will decompose in place, reduce weed problems, and enrich the soil, all at the same time. Another use for shredded leaves is as a layer of mulch in perennial and shrub beds, and around the base of young trees. Make sure that larger leaves are shredded first so they do not form a barrier layer when wet, thus restricting air and water movement.

Leaves and other organic matter can be recycled by putting them in a traditional compost pile if you have one. The resulting compost is perfect for enriching the soil in every gardening project. Your compost is ready to use when the pile has become somewhat smaller and the color of the material is dark brown.

Still hanker for that burning leaf smell on a crisp, winter day? Crank up the grill one last time and after you are through cooking, sprinkle a hand-full of leaves over the dying embers, inhale, and remember the days gone by.