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.

12/18/2014 8:57:29 AM

Just passing a tip along I came upon check how "active" your compost pile is, take a length of steel pipe (I use an old 1/2" steel water pipe 4' long) and stick it in your pile, all the way to the bottom. Pull the pipe out periodically and feel of the bare metal that was deep in your pile....if your pile is active, it will be noticeably warm. It's a good test method!

10/31/2014 11:25:07 AM

Jan Meyer...I don't have any ideas for instant chai, but the way I make it is not hard and doesn't take long. I buy the Tazo Chai tea bags (or you may prefer another brand) @ $3.49 for a box of 20. Just ONE Chai Latte at Starbucks is more than that, I think. Anyway, just measure out 1/2 cup water in pot, boil, then add 1/2 cup milk and the tea bag and let steep for 5-7 minutes or so. Pour into cup, add sugar, and it tastes just like a Starbucks Chai Latte at a fraction of the cost. I use skim milk and very little sugar so that it is not so rich as Starbucks'. You can also use honey if you like it.

10/31/2014 10:18:29 AM

I throw my leaves into the chicken pen. The hens love to scratch through them, looking for bugs and worms and other edibles. Eventually, they reduce the leaves to compost (I sprinkle with Coop-and-Compost) and then I just shovel it out and put it in the garden or flower pots. Looks and smells like potting soil. :)

10/31/2014 9:58:50 AM

I love to rake leaves. I am from Ohio and now live in Utah and it is difficult to get enough leaves from my yard to use in my large garden, let alone get my raking fix. So I decided to approach neighbors I didn't know and offer to rake and remove the leaves for them. (Yes I know, very selfish) What I didn't expect was how doing that would allow me to touch someone's life. I went to one lady's door and made my pitch and she started to cry. She told me I was an answer to her prayers. Her husband had been working out of the country for a year, she had a special needs daughter who took much of her time, and she was planning a wedding for another daughter, and the new inlaw's were coming for dinner that Sunday and she had wanted to have her yard look nice, but didn't have time to rake. We raked her leaves, filled her small garden with 4 inches of them and took the rest home. I never expected that I would "blossom" more inside, than anything I grew in my garden from those leaves.

10/19/2014 10:50:41 AM

Leaves are also great for filling your containers with mulch. Use about 1/2 to 2/3 leaves, and put soil on top. Potting soil, compost, peat moss, etc all work. When it goes down in the following fall, you can refill them the same way. It makes them easier to move [before they compress] if you need to move them for some reason. They are free.

10/13/2014 8:35:28 PM

Something I have learned that greatly speeds up the composting of my oak leaves in the fall and grass clippings during the summer is to completely submerge (in water) the material to be composted in a large container. I use a wheelbarrow and lawn cart and a 55 gallon drum. Leave the material submerged for four days. Word of this Texas heat by the 4th day this stuff has a definite aroma that could offend a close neighbor. After the fourth day, layer the new material with already composted material and you are set. The stuff will compost quicker and more thoroughly than any method I'v found. The only way to go!

10/12/2014 7:38:52 PM

I bag all my leaves in the fall and use them all year as bedding in my chicken coop. It's called the deep litter method, and I mean deep, up to around 12 inches. Whenever It starts to smell the tiniest bit, I just add another bag or two of leaves. The high carbon content neutralizes the high nitrogen of the chicken manure. People are amazed that with 14 chickens the only smell in the coop is an earthy, woodsy smell. Once a year I clean out the coop, and spread the manure/leaf mixture, already mostly composted, on the garden, and start over with the next batch of leaves. The chickens thrive, the garden thrives, and its easy and best of all, free.

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

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!

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.)

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 - it's a wiki, so additions and corrections are welcome.

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.

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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