To a gardener, December's fallen leaves and pine needles are just like manna. Each leaf and needle contains a larder of organic matter--absolutely the best material for loosening clay or improving the water- and nutrient-holding capacity of sand. Organic matter feeds legions of plants, earthworms, and micro-organisms.
Rake your leaves and pine needles into long, shallow rows about 6 inches deep. Then set your lawnmower on its highest setting and run over the pile, making enough passes to completely chop it up. The first time you run over the leaves, you'll invariably miss some which won't be chopped. So rake them all into a pile again, and run over them once more. You'll be amazed at how small that big pile of leaves becomes.
Carefully gather that finely shredded material--it's garden gold. Take it to your flowerbed, shrub border, or vegetable garden, and spread a 2-inch-thick layer over the soil surface and around any existing plants. The shredded leaves make excellent, attractive mulch--they stay in place and don't wash or blow away. Even more important, as the leaves slowly decompose, they add vital organic matter to the soil, improving its ability to support abundant life. Do this every fall, and before long, you'll have the richest soil on the block. And you won't have paid a dime.
At our new house we don't have to rake leaves yet, but hopefully in years to come this will be the way I mulch my flowers and shrubs.