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Got Leaves? Put 'Em to Work

10/20/2008 4:10:29 PM

Tags: composting, mulch, leaves, fall gardening, soil

autumn leaves bp 
'Tis the season for harvesting leaves, the most abundant free source of organic matter available to most gardeners. Microorganisms in soil and compost transform leaves into bits of organic matter, which helps the soil retain nutrients and moisture.  By themselves, leaves contain small amounts of 16 plant nutrients.

You can stockpile leaves in a bin or pen to use later as compost or mulch, but you don't have to wait until leaves decompose to put them to work. With some shredding assistance from your lawn mower, you can give your leaves useful jobs right now.

1. Turn lawn into garden. Prepare sections of lawn you want to develop into garden beds by smothering them with leaves. First scalp the grass by mowing as close to the surface as possible. Then cover the space with several thicknesses of newspaper or cardboard, and cover the base layer with two inches (or more) or compost or manure. Top with 3 to 4 inches of shredded leaves. 

2. Winterize hardy vegetables. Use shredded leaves to limit winter injury to kale, leeks, carrots and other hardy vegetables. Surround the planting with a low fence or burlap enclosure and fill it with up to 12 inches of shredded leaves. Mulch garlic and perennial onions with up to 6 inches of shredded leaves mixed with the season's last grass clippings.

3. Bury them in a trench. Improve the drainage and organic matter content in garden beds by digging narrow trenches, filling them with shredded leaves, and then covering them up. By late spring, the leaves will be sufficiently decomposed to mix into the soil, or you can plant right into the enriched trenches.

4. Mulch-mow them into your grass. Research done at Michigan State University reveals that when rather thick layers of leaves (to 12 inches) are shredded with a mower and allowed to rot where they fall, the grass greens up faster in spring and grows better the following summer. Just don't expect the leaves to disappear from view until the grass starts growing next year.

5. Mulch your trees. Stockpile shredded leaves until early winter, and then tuck in trees, shrubs, and perennial beds with 3 to 4 inches of shredded leaf mulch. A thick leaf mulch helps moderate soil temperatures in winter, reducing cold-related injuries to shallow roots. Beneficial soil-dwelling fungi are also abundant beneath shredded leaf mulch – one reason why Colorado State University lists mulching among its Ten Commandments of Planting Trees.

There is one precaution: Be careful with black walnut leaves, which can cause reduced growth in many plants, including tomatoes. According to Iowa State University, the juglone in black walnut leaves is usually neutralized by 4 to 6 months of composting.

Do you have other leaf-handling methods that work great at your place? Be sure to share them in the Comments section below.


Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on .



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Post a comment below.

 

petedist
11/28/2013 8:51:11 AM
We live an area with an abundant supply of leaves. I use the following method to make mulch out of a substantial amount of them: I use a large plastic tub, 30 gal or bigger, fill the tub with dry leaves and mulch them up with my weed wacker. It is amazing how small the particles end up. I use the mulch to winter around plants and in all the gardens. I love leaves.

jan meyer
12/5/2008 11:22:49 AM
Off the subject of leaves, but sorta . . like tea. Does anyone out there have a recipe for instant chai tea, so you can make it as dried and store, add to hot water? ingredients like powdered milk, creamer, instant tea and spices? Would appreciate any combinations someone might have. thanks Jan

diane_2
11/15/2008 10:53:19 PM
Leaves can be made into leaf mold that is a beneficial soil amendment. All you need is chicken or similar wire shaped into a cylinder 3' around which you fill with leaves and compact. By spring they'll be black leaf mold similar to compost which can be thinly spread on any planting or in pots. This may be easier for a person with limited mobility/strength.

Vicki Patton
11/11/2008 6:25:13 AM
I am interested in how to use leaves also to benifit my garden and yard. I am interested in how Dakota Women usd the barrels as compostes. I have 9 large trees in my yard and do no want to burn the leaves but would like to compost them for my garden and flowers. My mobility is restricted so any helpful advantage to dealing with this many leaves would be appreciated.

M. Krause
11/8/2008 10:40:35 PM
I collect leaves to spread in the chicken run in the winter. Our chickens do not like the snow so I spread a bag after every big snow. The chickens love to scratch around in it and it gets broken up to make wonderful compost come spring...Especially with the extra chicken manure to get it cooking!

p.alan
11/8/2008 10:24:38 AM
Towards the end of my grass' growing period and before the leaves begin to fall, I make sure that the grass is clipped often. I do this so that when I use the bagger on my mower to collect my leaf-bounty, I can set the blade higher and usually don't intermix grass clippings with my leaves. A large shade tree in my backyard becomes the host, and when kept watered-down, the leaves never blow away. The tree will benefit from the added mulch, but I also will take the mulched matter away as I need it for my vegetable and flower beds. (By Spring, the pile is usually riddled with earthworms and red wrigglers... and by then is also an excellent source of compost matter.) I have also been known to use the matter as potting soil without any other additives, and those flowers LOVE their soil. Check with your city, as it may have a composting service, too. I typically use all of my own leaves, but since my city offers such a service, I like to share my leaf bounty so that all can benefit. (It's also a good way to rid of fallen branches and plant clippings w/o having to burn them or put them into the regular waste pickup.)

Chriswaterguy
11/2/2008 1:07:44 PM
Why shred the leaves? They aren't shredded in nature, and they work just fine as a mulch. Years ago I used to collect leaves from the side of our street to use as mulch. I had great results (I remember amazing raspberries) but now I wonder whether there's anything toxic from the bitumen that affects the leaves. There's a thoughts on mulch at http://www.appropedia.org/Mulch - it's a wiki, so additions and corrections are welcome.

dabido
10/27/2008 12:40:18 PM
An alternative to mowing leaves is to rake them up, put them in a large trash can, then use your string trimmer to shred them inside the barrel. This has the advantage of keeping the leaves contained if you don't use a bag on your mower (or you don't have a power mower.) I use two cans: One I fill half way to shred in; it is easier to do if the can isn't full. I use the other barrel to dump the finished shredded leaves in. You can line it with a plastic yard bag if you like. It makes wonderful mulch. If you spread it under the trees the leaves came from, you are returning the nutrients to the soil and don't need to fertilize.

Christa_1
10/27/2008 11:31:28 AM
Using a mulching lawnmower, pass over leaves before they get too thick and they disappear into the lawn. The lawn gets extra beneficial organic matter, you save money on plastic bags (and prevent the pollution from making the bags) save time and save the government money (by not having to haul the waste away). Leaf mulch is great in my landscaping boarders. I do not shred the leaves because they retain moisture better and stop weed growth better. Do not cover your desirable plants or you may smother them! To prevent the leaves from blowing away and to make it look better, I cover them with pine straw. Because I don't collect my own leaves, I collect bags of leaves from my neighbors.

David Moffitt
10/25/2008 6:11:44 PM
I have found that one of the best ways to save the leaves is to put them into plastic garbage bags, and just stockpile them behind my composter until they are needed. The shredded leaves usually will break down into dirt in about 5 months in the sun. Shredded or mowed leaves will break down even quicker. The only bad part using this method, is that the plastic bags normally are difficult to pick up at the end of the season due to the UV rays from the sun weakening them, which also allows water to seep into the bags making them heavier.

Dakota Woman
10/22/2008 4:17:54 PM
I build compost tumblers from plastic barrels from the car wash & similar places, & sell them Small business using recycled materials. I use the bagger & "mow" my leaves; then put them in the tumbler with a little dirt & some water, & tumble every other day - makes compost much faster, even in the fall. Then I mulch like crazy & things go thru the winter better & come back nicer in the spring.







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