Why do we try to outsmart nature? You can save yourself a lot of trial and error as a young gardener if you simply choose to let nature be your guide. In this example, we have been taught to gather up fall leaves and send the ‘mess’ away. Yet, what’s the number one most beneficial resource we can add to our gardens? Fallen leaves.
Let’s look at how it works and why removing this task from your fall to-do list could be a very good investment.
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Wait! Don’t Get Rid of those Leaves!
What’s the one thing that gardeners routinely get rid of in the fall garden?
What’s does nature use to replenish soil?
It’s all part of the decaying life matter that provides rich, natural, organic mulch and an essential part of nature’s life cycle.
Leaf mulch improves soil structure and fertility, conserves moisture, inhibits weeds, provides a habitat for worms and zillions of other wee things that benefit the garden, and, on a cosmetic level, gives a finished look to garden beds.
Instead of raking and bagging leaves, and sending them away (and perhaps buying back the equivalent product in the spring), consider using them in your garden. Along with the nutritional power of compost, this is a simple way to improve your garden health. That’s why they’re garden gold!
We know deep, damp leaf piles can smother the growth underneath. But finely-mulched or chopped leaves distributed over garden beds are highly beneficial. Other organic mulches include wood chips, straw and hay, and grass clippings. Use what you have!
I purchased a ‘mulching’ lawn mower similar to this one on Amazon.com for this purpose. It not only cuts the grass, but grinds up the grass clippings and leaves, helping to speed up the disintegration process (the same way finely-chopped compost breaks down faster).
Another option is to use a weed whacker (also known as a ‘string trimmer’). Pile the leaves in a large bin or tub and chop them down with the whacker. It’s amazing how the leaf volume reduces with this method.
Or, stash the leaves in a pile and, in a year or two, you will have leaf mold. It sounds gross but it’s really just the decomposed leaves, ready to feed and protect your garden.
But Do Not Use…
The only exception is diseased leaves. Anything with a fungus, blight, or other atrocities should be bagged and sent away. But healthy leaves? Keep ’em and use ’em!
If you have more leaves than you use in one season, consider starting a leaf mold pile. It sounds gross (mold) but it really just involves keeping the leaves damp and piled high until they’ve rotted down. It generally takes about a year, but this carbon-rich mulch is ideal for the garden.
Same goes for weeds (that haven’t gone to seed), and of course, fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds—all the usual compostable items, plus grass clippings from your lawn, branch trimmings from trees and shrubs, and any other organic waste that we’ve grown accustomed to sending away.
I keep bags of leaves on hand to add to keep the right ratios of greens and browns in my compost piles.
It’s all plant food, ready to enrich your soil, without the middle man or unnecessary use of fossil fuels to send them away, repackage them, and sell them back to us.
I mean, why send leaves away in fall only to buy back compost and mulch in the spring?
Once you catch on to how nicely this works, you’ll be asking your neighbours for theirs too.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛