Those gorgeous leaves in all their shades of yellow, orange and red have started to fall. Eventually they will dry out, turn brown and litter the ground.

There are lots of things you can do with them, but please don't put them into storm drains in the street.

Storm drains are designed to collect rainwater and stormwater, not grass clippings, leaves, trash and other yard debris. Such items can accumulate, effectively creating a dam that prevents water from moving properly. When drains get clogged, that can lead to flooding, particularly in urban areas. 

Here are some things you can do to keep leaves out of storm drains and put them to good use.

Use them to mulch your plants. One of the best mulches on the market — pine needles — is essentially plant waste. Pine needles are gathered and sold at a premium. So why not use your own plant waste — leaves.

Leaves help retain moisture in the soil around your plants, insulate plant roots during cold weather, and provide organic matter and nutrients to your plant as the leaves decompose. Additionally, you save money on mulch, and you don’t have to bag leaves and carry them to the curb on trash day. It’s a much better alternative.

Use the mulching blade on your lawn mower to finely chop leaves. The leaf pieces will fall down into the turf and decompose, becoming organic matter for the grass. However, over time, this can create excessive thatch — organic matter that accumulates at the base of the grass plants just above the roots — which can cause root problems and lawn mower difficulties. So pick your battles.

Make compost. It’s an easy process.

Designate an area in your yard for collecting compost items, such as grass clippings, leaves, kitchen vegetable waste, coffee grounds, paper and eggshells. Contain the area with some type of boundary, such as woven wire, wood or concrete blocks. You can also buy plastic composting bins of various sizes.

The rule of thumb is to use a 2:1 ratio of green to brown materials (that’s the carbon to nitrogen ratio). Green materials include such things as fresh grass clippings, plant clippings and kitchen scraps. Brown materials include fallen leaves, dried grass, wood and sticks, paper and straw.

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To get started, add material in layers: brown material, then some soil or compost starter containing the microorganisms that will decompose the material, followed by more brown material. Layer in green material, which serves as a form of nitrogen and will help the microorganisms break down the carbon. Water is important for the process, but you do not want too much water. Turn your compost at least once a week if not more often. Compost is ready when it crumbles and feels like rich earth — dark brown and crumbly. It’s a great amendment for landscape beds and gardens.

As a last resort, you could rake and bag the leaves for pickup. But a better alternative is to give them to neighbors or friends who can use them for mulch or compost.

Ultimately, the idea is to keep leaves from clogging storm drains and contributing to flooding. 

Email questions to gardennews@agcenter.lsu.edu.