You would probably be interested before I even mentioned the best part: this fertilizer is free. In fact, it will be in your yard in abundance this fall in the form of fallen leaves.

Instead of just working to rake up leaves this autumn, why not let those leaves work for you? When added to your lawn or garden, leaves add phosphorous, carbon, potassium and other nutrients to the soil; feed earthworms and boost the soil's microbial life; increase the soil's ability to retain water; and improve soil structure.

Here are six ways to use fall leaves in your lawn and garden this season:

1. Mow the Leaves Into Your Lawn

Use your lawn mower to add shredded leaves and grass to your lawn. If you have a light layer of leaves, a regular mower should work well. But, if your leaf cover is heavy, you may need a mulching mower.

In either case, if you have a bag on your mower, remove it and turn the discharge chute so that it faces the lawn. If the leaves are still in large pieces after you mow, make another pass at that section until the leaves are shredded.

Then leave the light layer of shredded material on your lawn. As the leaves and grass clippings break down over the winter, they will add carbon, nitrogen and other substances to enrich your soil.

2. Mulch the Leaves Into Your Garden

Shredded leaves also can help fertilize your flower and vegetable beds, and they can feed your shrubs and trees.

You can shred leaves with your mower and then spread them around the base of your trees and shrubs or distribute them in your beds. The shredded leaves will slowly decompose over the winter, providing nutrients to the soil and helping the soil retain moisture.

3. Use the Leaves as a Cover Crop

A thick layer of shredded leaves protects your perennial garden plants from harsh winter weather. It will protect top soil and help insulate tender plants from freezing temperatures.

A layer of leaves this fall and winter also will help cut down on the number of weeds that will find their way into your garden next spring.

4. Make Leaf Mold

Rake leaves into a big pile where they will be out of the way. Protect them from blowing away by covering them with chicken wire.

Wet the leaves thoroughly and turn the pile a few times during the winter to encourage the decomposition process. As the leaves break down, they will create leaf mold—a dark, rich, soil-like substance that works as well as mulch. Leaf mold is rich in magnesium and calcium and can retain up to five times its weight in water.

5. Add the Leave to Your Compost Pile

You can shred the leaves first, which will help them decompose more quickly, or add whole leaves to your compost pile or compost bin.

Compost oak leaves in moderation—no more than 20-percent of your total pile—as they can make your pile too acidic for most vegetable gardens.

6. Protect Potted Plants

When your outdoor potted plants have gone dormant, gather the pots together and place them in a sheltered location on the north, east, or west side of your house. Then place dry, shredded leaves over, under, and between your pots. The leaves will provide a layer of insulation for the plants throughout the winter.

Are you sold on the idea of using leaves on your lawn and garden but you don’t have enough leaves of your own? Many homeowners are more than happy to let you take their leaves.

If you see a property with lots of leaves, you can ask the owner if you can rake them and take them. Another idea is to ask neighbors who have bagged their leaves or raked them to the curb for municipal pick-up if you can haul them away.

Finally, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as much as 50-percent of landfill waste is comprised of plant debris such as leaves and grass clippings and leaves. So, in addition to helping your lawn and garden by using shredded leaves as fertilizer, you also will be helping the environment.