Don’t Just Throw Them Away! Use Autumn Leaves to Improve Your Garden

By , Guide

Don't Just Throw Them Away!Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
It’s a weekend ritual in most neighborhoods: the raking and bagging of autumn leaves. And it is repeated, week after week until, at last, the last leaf has fallen.But why make so much work for yourself when there are simple ways to make your fall leaf clean-up work for your garden? Why spend all of that time bagging leaves to be picked up by your municipality when you can put them to work in your garden beds? Here are five easy ways to use leaves in your garden.

  1. Compost ThemAutumn leaves, especially those that have been chopped or shredded (you can use a chipper/shredder, a leaf vac, or a lawn mower to shred the leaves) are dream additions to the compost pile. Leaves are a great source of “brown,” high-carbon material for the compost. Simply alternate layers of shredded leaves with the regular green materials you’d add to your compost pile (such as vegetable and fruit scraps, weeds, grass clippings, and plants that you pull out in your fall garden clean-up) and let it sit over the winter. Aerate or turn the pile when you think of it, and by planting time you’ll have finished compost.If you are a fan of lasagna gardening (also known as sheet composting) autumn leaves are a true gift to the gardener. And they come at the perfect time; you can build a lasagna garden now with your leaves and other compostables, let it sit over the winter, and plant in your new bed in the spring.
  2. Make Leaf MoldLeaf mold is a wonderful soil amendment that is made from nothing more than fall leaves with the occasional layer of garden soil or finished compost added. The pile sits for about a year, and when it’s finished you have the perfect amendment for vegetable and flower gardens, as well as a fantastic addition to potting soils.
  3. MulchOnce you’ve shredded your leaves, they can be used as an organic mulch in flower beds, vegetable gardens, under trees and shrubs, or in container gardens. Simply apply a two to three inch layer of shredded leaves to your beds, keeping the mulch from directly touching the stems and trunks of your plants. The mulch will help the soil retain moisture, stay cool, and limit weed seed germination. As a bonus, the leaves will add nutrients to the soil as they break down, and the worms and soil microorganisms will work on them as well, resulting in lighter, fluffier soil over time.
  4. Hoard ThemYou may think that once all of the leaf clean-up is finished, you’ll never want to see another leaf again. But just wait! What about when spring rolls around, and you’re out there weeding and deadheading and pruning again, adding all of those “greens” to the compost pile? Brown materials can be hard to come by in spring and summer. But, if you’ve thought ahead and hoarded a garbage bag or two in your garage over the winter, you won’t have any problem making perfect compost in spring. It’s much easier to dump a bag of leaves on the compost pile than to stand there shredding newspaper in an attempt to dry out a soggy compost pile!
  5. Mow ThemThis one may be the easiest solution, as it involves no raking whatsoever. There really is no scientific reason to rake all of the leaves off of your lawn. If you simply run over them with a mower (with the wheels set at their highest setting) they’ll break down over the winter, providing your soil with nutrients and shading the soil, which will result in fewer lawn weeds to worry about next year. If you do this once a week until the leaves are finished falling, you won’t have to rake a single leaf, and your lawn will look better for it next spring and summer.

So, there you have them: five easy ways to deal with autumn leaves. Use one, or a combination, but don’t be surprised to find yourself eying your neighbor’s leaves once you see the benefits autumn leaves bring to your garden.

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