Fall Leaves Make a Great Garden Mulch

comments (11) October 10th, 2009

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Ruth Ruth Dobsevage, member
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Raking leaves is pleasant work on a sunny autumn day.
Leaves are too valuable a resource to bag and take to the dump. Use them to make leaf mold or spread them over your vegetable garden in late fall.

Photo by cazstar under the Creative Commons Attribution Licesne 2.0.
Heres the compost heap restocked with this years leaves. And just in time, too.
Raking leaves is pleasant work on a sunny autumn day.Click To Enlarge

Raking leaves is pleasant work on a sunny autumn day.

Photo: Kate Frank

For many, raking leaves is a dreaded autumn chore. For me, it's part of the process of renewing the soil in my vegetable gardens before putting my them to bed for the winter.

Unlike my neighbors across the street, who start their screaming leaf blowers at the first sign of a littered lawn, I like to wait until all the leaves are down and the garden is clean, which is usually sometime after Halloween. So for several weeks, their lawns are gleaming emerald expanses, while mine is more, uh, muted.

My equipment is decidedly low tech: a rake and tarp, maybe a pair of gloves, if it's chilly. My approach is this: rake into piles, rake piles onto tarp, drag to garden, and dump, to a depth of a foot or two. (I don't put leaves on crops that linger, such as Brussels sprouts, kale, and parsley. I simply mulch around them.) I’ve been using this approach for years, and soil is much improved by it.

  Safety disclaimer
Readers of a certain age (and with a certain sense of humor) may wish to consult the AARP's safety tips for raking before undertaking this "moderate physical activity."

Trust me: If you are an active gardener, you can easily handle raking.
Boring? Some would say so. But I work at it for an hour or two at a time. I don't much like to hike during hunting season, so raking is a good excuse to be outdoors in crisp and energizing weather, and my mind is free to wander where it will. And sometimes I get help.

The leaves make a great mulch, and as they decompose they improve the texture and quality of the soil. In the spring, when I've decided where the beds will be, I just rake them off to the side.

  Compost pile in winter
When my vegetable gardens are covered, I top off the compost heap with whatever leaves remain. If I don’t have enough to do that, I just cross the street, tarp and rake in hand. The neighbors think they are getting a great deal and are happy to contribute. I've even been known to beg leaves from complete strangers, then load leaf bags into my car before the town crew can collect them.

Once the gardens have been cleaned and mulched and the compost heap is piled high with leaves, let it snow. We’re ready.

It's fall garden cleanup time More on fall gardening:

Plant a Green Manure or a Cover Crop This Fall
It's Fall Garden Cleanup Time
Plant a Second Crop for a Bountiful Fall Harvest
Cold Frame Gardening
• Frost and the Fall Garden
Video: Fall Vegetable Garden 



posted in: fall

Comments (11)

frankhall writes: Awesome
Posted: 7:13 am on May 26th
asseenintheyard writes: I use the lawnmower as a vacuum cleaner and then till the leaves and grass into the ground in the fall. Come spring it is all decomposed and again gets tilled. As for weed control in the garden (vegetable),during the summer, I use the grass clippings ( I do not use weed and feed or any other chemical either than lime pellets in the lawn) in between the plants which keeps them moist, warm and weed free. Come harvest time it all goes under again. I till (roto till) the leaves as it seems to mix it up for better easier composting.
Posted: 3:30 pm on October 17th
Mulchmaven writes: If you have a lawn a great way to manage your fall leaves without using a leaf blower is to mow over them on the lawn with your mower. A mulcher-mower works best but you can do it with a regular mower with the flap closed. The chopped leaves fall between the grass blades, improving the soil as they decompose and improving the soil structure, which really helps improve the lawn. If you're going to mow the lawn anyway, just mow over the leaves and save time on raking. So much better for the garden, way less noise, less energy used, and, for those who use landscapers, it's quicker for the landscaper so cheaper. Check out www.leaveleavesalone.org
Posted: 2:10 pm on October 12th
beachwoman writes: Thanks, Ruth! I'll give it a try!
Posted: 8:03 am on October 12th
greencorner writes: Fill gunny sacks 3/4 full of leaves and put the sacks over your root crops still in the ground. Keeps them from freezing. Just move a sack dig what you need and put the sack back. Sure love my carrots and beets that way.
Posted: 5:06 pm on October 16th
Ruth writes: KAMyers and lucyg22, maybe I didn't explain as clearly as I might have. I cover my entire garden with leaves (mostly maple, with some oak and pine needles). In the spring, I figure out where I want to plant (the bed configuration is a little different each year), and rake the leaves off each bed-to-be into the space that becomes the pathways, where they keep down the weeds during the growing season. By the following fall, those leaves have pretty much decomposed. Over time, the soil of the entire garden improves.
Posted: 8:58 am on October 14th
lucyg22 writes: P.S. More than once, I have taken old Christmas trees off my neighbors' lawns before the County picked them up. The branches make a great breathable winter much for my pansies and violas. My teenagers were the ones who were mortified and they refused to help me.
Posted: 9:14 pm on October 13th
lucyg22 writes: I've had the same experience as KAMyers. I'm really surprised that you don't even have to shred the leaves. When we've tried your method, in the spring the leaves are matted, wet, and whole. Not pretty, and nearly impossible to turn under. What kind of trees do you have? Mine are maples and oaks. Now we shred the leaves by running over them several times with the mower, then doing a last pass with the bagger attached. Even then they don't break down that much over the winter when I spread them on my large shrub border. I don't have the turning under problem,and it gives us a place to put the leaves without too much hauling.
Posted: 9:09 pm on October 13th
KAMyers writes: I'm clearly doing something wrong. I've tried dumping our leaves on the vegetable garden before, but they didn't break down over the winter. Most of them had already been shredded. Turning them under in the spring made it difficult to sow small seeds. Also, I've always wondered if using leaves this way (also to mulch around the fall crops) falls under "garden debris" that I'm supposed to clear the garden of so all the awful bugs we had this summer won't have a safe place to hide over the winter? (I'm thinking scorched earth approach right now.) Any suggestions as to what I'm doing wrong? I've got tons of leaves and do use them for landscaping use in the fall, and would love to help the soil in the veggie plot too.
Posted: 1:27 pm on October 13th
Ruth writes: I didn't need to beg when the huge ash tree by the roadside was alive. It shaded the house in summer and provided more than enough leaves. We had it taken down after many limbs broke off and crashed, the last of which landed on my car and totalled it. It had to go before it killed someone.
Posted: 4:33 pm on October 23rd
FarminMom writes: i love the part where you beg for leaves from complete strangers. i have been know to beg for grass clippings and manure...much to my husbands mortification!:)
Posted: 1:53 pm on October 23rd
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