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If you’re disposing of the autumn leaves in your yard, you’re tossing out a valuable soil amendment and it’s free for the taking. Your neighbors may have also bagged them up for you.

Studies from Michigan State University, Cornell and Perdue found increased organic and microbial activity in the soil of lawns mulched with autumn leaves, which indicates improved soil quality. Leaves are like chocolate to earthworms, who help to aerate and further enrich the soil with their castings. As the leaf mulch decomposes, it becomes food for other beneficial soil dwellers at the top of the food chain.

A layer of leaf mulch also protects the soil from compaction, encourages water absorption and retention while reducing runoff. It also reduces the freeze-thaw effect that destroys the roots of plants. Several inches of shredded leaves also make an excellent mulch for vegetable and flower beds, as well as the lawn.

Some folks like to rake, but I prefer to blow and vacuum my leaves. The tool I find indispensable for leaf collecting and shredding is the Worx electric blower/vac.

The Worx Trivac (worxtrivac.shopyardtools.com) is a blower, mulcher and vacuum all in one. The top-of-the-line model WG509 ($139.95) sports a metal impeller that produces a 16-to-1 mulch ratio. This 2014 model generates up to 210 mph air speeds with an adjustable air flow control. The angled nose allows easy access under decks, shrubs, furniture and other tight spaces. But the feature that blows me away is the toggle switch that allows the conversion from a blower to a shredding vacuum with a simple flick of a switch. Nothing to take apart and reassemble. No parts to loose or stumble over when lost in a pile of leaves. At less than 10 pounds, the lightweight tool allows extended use without excessive fatigue.

The Fiskars Eco Bin Composter is perfect for turning shredded autumn leaves into compost prized as an organic soil amendment used to enrich the soil when planting.

Priced at $40, the Fiskars Eco Bin (www2.fiskars.com) is lightweight, tidy looking and easy to move around. A plastic molded top can be locked on using a toggle and loop system and anchors are included to keep the unit upright. The open bottom allows worms and microbes easy access, which will help speed up the composting.

If you missed the big leaf drop this year, consider putting these tools on your wish list for Christmas and you will be ready for spring cleanup.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question, go to Yardener.com and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnews.com/homestyle.

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