5 Things to Do With All Those Fall Leaves

comments (13) September 30th, 2013

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ChrisMcLaughlin Chris McLaughlin, contributor
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Photo by LaBabble under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
Photo by Nate Steiner under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
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Photo by LaBabble under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.Click To Enlarge

Photo by LaBabble under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.


Here they come ~ leaves, leaves, glorious leaves! I don't care how you use them, just please don't shove them into bags that are bound for the trash pickup. It's a fate worse than death and at least five wasted opportunities. Dead leaves (pure organic matter) only comes around once a year and they're uber-beneficial for your yard and garden.

First things first. Alway pile them up as high as you can and jump into them before you do anything else. If jumping isn't your thing, look for a kid or a dog to do the honors. It's right-of-passage for all kids and dogs, by the way.

1. Shred and spread 

This is the simplest thing you can do with your fall leaves. Go over a big pile of them with a mower or toss them into a shredder. The finer the cut, the faster they'll decompose. Now spread your leaf confetti all over the lawn, garden, or flower beds where they can rot and become part of the soil.

2. Mulch your perennial beds 

Shredded leaves make a wonderful protective cover for perennial plants that are wintering over in your yard. Once the ground is hard, use them to blanket the root zone around perennials being careful not to pile them up against the trucks of the plants. Your vegetable bed could probably use a bit of leaf mulch, too.

3. Add them to the compost pile 

This is my favorite use for dead fall leaves. My compost pile begs for them and I never resist. Dried leaves are a prime carbon source. You'll want to balance this addition to your pile with some nitrogen materials at the same time if possible. Plant clippings, grass clippings, alfalfa hay, and herbivore manure such as rabbit poop are all good nitrogen sources to blend in with the leaves.

4. Halloween decorations 

Have you seen those orange bags that have Jack O'Lantern faces or other characters printed on them? They become instant Halloween decorations once they're stuffed and placed in the front yard for October. Use your leaves to fill the bags and create a spooky scene. Come November use the leaves to...

5. Make leaf mold 

Think of this as leaf compost. Once the leaves compost down into leaf mold, it's pretty much pure humus (and smells delightful...seriously). It's not about bringing nutrition to the garden as it is about improving the soil structure (leaf mold has almost zero actual nutrition). It's a valuable as a soil conditioner in the garden as it offers texture and water retention.

Starting the leaf mold process is easy: simply gather as many dried leaves as you can and put them into a circular, wire cage or black garbage bag. Sprinkle the leaves some water every now and again and this time next year you'll have perfect leaf mold for your garden or yard.

Want to move things along? Stuff dried leaves into a black garbage bag. Add a nitrogen source such as composted manure or grass clippings. A couple handfuls of compost from a previous pile helps get things going, too. Sprinkle a little water in there, tie the end up, and shake up the bag. Put a few slices in the bag so that oxygen circulates. Now leave it alone. After about six months you'll have a composted leaf-mold to add to your beds.

Now that you know the true value of dead leaves, you really can un-know this stuff, yanno? So fair warning; if you stack those leaf bags on the curb this year, a thousand guilt moneys will descend upon your head.


posted in: compost, mulch, leaf mold, fall leaves

Comments (13)

EvelynDiaz writes: awesome work
Posted: 2:22 am on September 27th
jimmiemueller writes: Thanks for share your great tips
Posted: 8:08 am on August 3rd
microwaveoven writes: Beautiful
Posted: 6:56 am on August 3rd
cavanilyn writes: I love this summer
Posted: 12:08 pm on August 1st
markhunt writes: Best of the Best,
Posted: 2:02 am on July 29th
KayClayton writes: Great work and presentation and awesome UI
Posted: 6:56 am on July 4th
JacintoMeritt writes: Impressive dude,
Posted: 5:44 am on June 24th
gardeningforever writes: Has anyone tried making 'roses' out of leaves?
Posted: 3:27 pm on October 21st
DebLorSch writes: I haven't composted my maple leaves because I'm worried about the powdery film on them. I suppose its powdery mildew. Will it hurt/infect plants I mulch or the compost?

Also, I have brown spots and eggs (probably aphids) on my Aspen leaves. Should I compost them?

Finally, the leaves on my oak-leaf hydrangea wrinkle & curl during summer. I don't know what causes that. Should I compost them?

Thanks for reading!
Posted: 2:17 pm on November 10th
ChrisMcLaughlin writes: ddmarie: While juglone is certainly an issue for plants growing around with live walnut trees, the general feeling is that if they're added to a *hot* compost pile, the juglone breaks down making it a non-issue. That said, if your compost pile is specifically for your veggie bed, then perhaps it's best to leave them out.

If sycamore leaves are shredded well and added to a hot pile, they will break down. However, I've heard that a mask should be used when shredding them as the fuzz from the leaves can be irritating. Of course, if you don't feel comfortable using either leaf types, simply steer clear.

ElizabethKaren: For sure use the leaves to mulch your strawberry bed -- just not walnut leaves! :D The best way is to shred them with the mower before you use them so they don't block water from reaching the plant roots. Or use leaves that are already beginning to decompose.
Posted: 2:20 pm on October 18th
arthurb3 writes: My neighbors know to save their leaves for me! I much with them. My soil is so humus and full organic material
Posted: 5:50 pm on October 16th
ElizabethKaren writes: Thank you for the leaf tips - I have put just whole leaves on my garden beds before - Do you suggest putting leaves on strawberry plants - I think I am going to try the leaf mold ideas also - I have left over chicken wire from my vegetable garden bed. Please let me know about the strawberry plants = it is starting to get cold here in Michigan
Posted: 1:38 pm on October 16th
ddmarie writes: What about leaves from the English Walnut or Sycamore tree? I have heard that neither are good for the garden soil, even if chopped fine. The Sycamore leaves seem to never break down, the and the walnut tree leaves are similar.

Posted: 11:01 am on October 16th
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