Fall leaves are the season’s most abundant crops and should be used wisely instead of being thrown into the garbage dump. Moreover, you can use them for a lot more than just compost and mulch. On the other hand, if you need a fresh batch of topsoil to make a garden bed with that compost, you can search for “topsoil near me” and buy it from a nearby store. Let’s check out how you can use fall leaves in your garden.
- Compost pile – Let’s address the most obvious use of fall leaves – making a compost pile. If you’re not composting already, this fall season you have a great opportunity to start one and make rich organic matter for your plants. Keep autumn leaves in a corner of your yard and prevent them from being blown away by the wind by securing them with a tarp and bricks or chicken wire. After the pile gets large enough, shred down those leaves with a chipper or mulching lawn mower to speed up decomposition.
Now layer these leaves rich with “brown” carbon content with “green” material that’s rich in nitrogen. That includes everything from dead plant matter to grass clippings and kitchen scrap. The “green” matter will feed the beneficial bacteria that decompose all that “green” and “brown matter. Make sure to layer around three inches of fall leaves with one inch of “green” matter to optimize the decomposition.
Let that decomposition continue and sit throughout the winter season. As the pile slowly turns into compost, make sure to aerate it from time to time. If the compost pile seems like it’s about to dry up, you can add water with a garden hose and turn it a few times with a pitchfork to mix it all up and reactivate the decomposition. By the time spring arrives the next year, you’ll have a large pile of compost that can become nutrients for your new garden beds.
- Mulch – Apart from composting, mulching is the other popular option for fall leaves. If you have a bed of berry shrubs, a veggie garden, or just aesthetic ornamental shrubs, you can protect them all with mulch obtained from fall leaves. When fall leaves are turned into mulch and used to cover garden beds, they can suppress the spread of new weeds and provide other benefits. Moreover, since they are entirely made of ”brown” matter, fall leaves don’t contain any weed sprouts.
Once you chop and shred your pile of fall leaves, you can cover the garden beds with them to prevent soil erosion during the harsh winter months. Make sure not to use whole leaves since they don’t allow any water to trickle down and reach the soil. The mulch also acts as an insulation layer that prevents the ground from freezing up early and protects tender perennials in their most vulnerable growth phase. Moreover, after the winter season, the mulch starts to decompose and become nutrients for your plants.
- Improve your soil – If you don’t have the patience for making your own compost, you can also directly use shredded fall leaves to improve your soil. Just mix up shredded leaves with the soil and by the next growing season, the soil would be thriving with microbial activity and other useful organisms.
However, it’s important to note that this method isn’t applicable for no-till gardens or for gardens that are in the process of being turned into no-till gardens. You need to till the soil extensively to mix it with shredded garden leaves and that destroys the existing microbial ecosystem inside the soil.
- Leaf mold – There’s another way of making plant food with your leaves apart from composting and directly mixing them into the soil. You can take inspiration from the British and make leaf mold. Start by raking leaves into a big pile and then shred them down to hasten the decomposition process. However, for leaf mold shredding leaves isn’t an absolute necessity. Let the leaves sit in a pile, spray them with a garden hose and allow fungi to work their magic.
After a couple of years, the leaves would disintegrate into a sweet-scented and dark soil conditioner that is rich in magnesium and calcium and has excellent water retention properties. You can use it to amend the soil in your flower and veggies beds and can also use it for making high-quality potting soil. While it isn’t as good as compost, it doesn’t require the additional care and labor.
- Mow it into the lawn – You can also use autumn leaves to feed your lawn. Shredded autumn leaves can improve the lawn soil and can also reduce your reliance on fertilizers. Get a mulching lawn mower and mow fallen leaves on your lawn once a week. The broken-down smaller fall leaves would provide extra nutrients to the soil over the winter season. Apart from helping with lawn grass, they can also feed beneficial soil fungi, bacteria, and worms. Make sure not to leave thick layers of mowed leaves on your lawn since they block out oxygen.
- Protect root veggies – Root crops like carrots, kale, beets, and leeks are stored inside the ground throughout the harsh winter season. While they are cold-hardy crops, they need to be harvested before the frost hits. Instead, you can cover them up with fall leaves and let that insulation keep them from freezing up. This protects the crops and allows you to stretch the harvesting period far into the winter season. You can also harvest those crops and store them within layers of crisp fall leaves.
Fall leaves have many uses and that’s why leaves from a large tree can be worth as much as $50 of plant food. You can use that organic matter to amend your soil and provide rich nutrients to your plants. If you don’t have good quality soil to start a new bed, you can search for “topsoil near me” and buy some from a store nearby.