Using Autumn Leaves in the Garden

Don't just throw them away

Raking leaves
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It's a fall weekend ritual in most neighborhoods—the raking and bagging of autumn leaves—and it is repeated, week after week until, at last, the last leaf has fallen.

Why make so much work for yourself when there are simple ways to make your fall leaf clean-up work for your garden? Don't spend all of that time bagging leaves to be picked up by your municipality when you can put them to work in your garden beds instead.

 Here are five ways to use leaves in your garden.

Compost Leaves

Autumn leaves, especially those that have been shredded by a lawnmower, are dream additions to the compost pile. Leaves are a great source of "brown," high-carbon material for the compost. Simply alternate layers of shredded leaves with the regular green materials you'd add to your compost pile, such as vegetable and fruit scraps, weeds, grass clippings and plants that you pull out in your fall garden clean-up, and let it sit over the winter. Aerate or turn the pile when you think of it, and by planting time you'll have finished compost.

If you are a fan of lasagna gardening, also known as sheet composting, autumn leaves are a true gift to the gardener. You can build a lasagna garden in the fall with your leaves and other compostables, let it sit over the winter, and plant in the new bed in the spring.

Make Leaf Mold

Leaf mold is a wonderful soil amendment that is made from nothing more than fall leaves with the occasional layer of garden soil or finished compost added.

The pile sits for about a year, and when it's finished you have the perfect amendment for vegetable and flower gardens, as well as a fantastic addition to potting soils.

Create Mulch

After you shred the leaves, they can be used as an organic mulch in flower beds, vegetable gardens, under trees and shrubs, or in container gardens.

Simply apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of shredded leaves to the beds, keeping the mulch from directly touching the stems and trunks of the plants. The mulch retains moisture in the soil, stays cool, and limits weed seed germination. As a bonus, the leaves add nutrients to the soil as they break down, and the worms and soil microorganisms work on them as well, resulting in lighter, fluffier soil over time.

Hoard Leaves

You may think that once all the leaf clean-up is finished, you'll never want to see another leaf again. But just wait. What about when spring rolls around, and you're out there weeding and deadheading and pruning again, adding all of those "greens" to the compost pile? Brown materials can be hard to come by in spring and summer. But, if you've thought ahead and hoarded a garbage bag or two in your garage over the winter, you won't have any problem making perfect compost in spring. It's much easier to dump a bag of leaves on the compost pile than to stand there shredding newspaper in an attempt to dry out a soggy compost pile.

Mowing

This one may be the easiest solution, as it involves no raking whatsoever. There really is no scientific reason to rake all the leaves off the lawn.

If you run over them with a mower, they'll break down over the winter, providing your soil with nutrients and shading the soil, which results in fewer lawn weeds to worry about next year. If you do this once a week until the leaves are finished falling, you won't have to rake a single leaf, and your lawn will look better for it next spring and summer.

So, there you have them—five ways to deal with autumn leaves. Use one or a combination, and don't be surprised to find yourself eyeing your neighbor's leaves after you see the benefits autumn leaves bring to your garden.