In fall, I cover my garden beds with maple leaves scrounged from my neighbors, wet the leaves down really well and then cover them with black plastic. In spring, the plastic has warmed the dirt and also protected it from drenching rains so I can work the soil earlier.
When I’m ready to plant, I remove the plastic and load the leaf litter into my wheelbarrow.
After planting, I return the leaf residue to the garden beds to use as mulch, and the leaves continue to deteriorate and enrich the soil.
Vienna, West Virginia