I am a huge fan of leaves. I am dumbfounded when I see them piled on the side of the road for pick up. This is free garden gold. Don’t throw it away. Here are 6 ways to put them to much better use. There’s a link below, to listen now, or you can access it on iTunes and Stitcher. If you’re the type who prefers to read, scroll down below the photo and dig in.
1. Compost Them – Either alone or in your existing pile, rotting leaves do wonders for soil.
If you want to add them to your compost pile, consider them a carbon or “brown” layer, perfect for mixing with all the green garden debris you have on hand as you pull out and cut back plants in the fall. If you wind up with more leaves than your compost can handle, just pile them up until spring, when you never have enough brown ingredients to balance the pile.
You don’t need a compost pile to make use of rotting leaves. A compost pile of just fall leaves is called leaf mold. That was the most current Tip of the Week. I know, leaf mold sounds lovely. Actually it is. It smells wonderful, like a forest floor. Once it’s good and crumbly, like pie dough, add it to your soil to improve its structure and its ability to hang onto water. And all the good organisms love living in it, so expect your garden’s ecosystem to start thriving – like a forest floor.
2. Mulch Your Beds – No mulch material looks as natural as leaves. It’s usually advised to shred them before using leaves as mulch. A thick layer of intact leaves will form a dense mat that won’t let air or water through. I have to confess, I’ve gotten lazy in recent years and several times have simply raked them whole, into the beds. I haven’t seen any negative effects. The soil has always been moist before I put the leaves in and by the time spring rolls around, they are pretty much beaten up on their own. Besides, shredded leaves have a great tendency to blow right out of the garden and back on the lawn. If you are going to shred them first, it helps to hose them down, once they are in the bed.
If you don’t have a leaf shredder, you can always run the mower over a low pile of leaves or put your leaves in a garbage can and use your spring trimmer to chopped them up. This takes some coordination,so be careful you don’t knock the can over.
3. Feed the Soil – You can skip the whole rotting process entirely and work your leaves right into the soil. You can turn them into the top few inches of soil or just spread a layer over the surface and chop them up a bit with a spade. Nature will take care of the rest. You’ll get the same effect as adding leaf mold, without having to exercise patience. It’s not as pretty, but it will be covered with plants soon enough.
4. Feed the Lawn – There’s no rule that says you have to rake your leaves. Unless they are completely obliterating your lawn, they won’t harm it, Leave them be or run the mower over them and they will slowly decompose and feed the lawn. Free fertilizer and no effort required on your part, imagine! Any leaves that don’t decompose over winter will be gone with the first mowing of spring, I promise.
5. Insulate Containers and Tender Plants – A thick layer of leave provides a couple of degrees of insulation for your plants and containers and it protects them from wind desiccation. To protect a shrub or container, I circle it with wire fencing and stuff the leaves into it. To protect bedding plants, I like to put the leaves into a garbage bag, so they stay in place and lay that on top of the plants. I use a rock or brick to hold it in place. It makes for quick clean up in the spring – no raking required.
6. Preserve them for Later – I used to love pressing leaves, when I was a kid. For the heck of it, I tried my hand at preserving them again and it’s just as easy as you’d imagine. I ironed some between waxed paper and soaked some in glycerin, which makes them shiny and subtle. By the way, you can find glycerin in the cake decorating section of craft stores. Seems it helps food coloring adhere, or something.
Fall just may be the most beautiful season in the Hudson Valley, but it is fleeting. Enjoy every second of it and maybe keep a few souvenirs to savor through winter.