Using Autumn Leaves

Featured Article, Gardening, Home & Family
on September 28, 2014

When the glorious yellows, reds, and oranges of autumn foliage have dropped onto your lawn, its cleanup time. Dont waste natures bounty by burning your leaves, hauling them out to the curb or bagging them up as yard waste, because theyre great for the garden.

The easiest way to take advantage of fallen leaves, if you have a mulching mower, is to simply mow over them and let the shredded bits work their way into the lawn. Its free fertilizer.

Mowers also can be used to shred leaves for use as a garden mulch that wont attract termites like chipped wood or bark mulch. Just mow over them with a bag attachment, and spread the shredded leaves around the bases of plants or over dormant beds. Shredded leaves decompose faster than whole ones, enriching garden soil. Theyre also more likely to stay in place. Apply 3 to 6 inches around trees and shrubs, 2 to 3 inches around annuals and perennials. You might even want to save some leaves until next spring, for another mulch application.

Leaves can be worked directly into the garden soil. Shredded leaves will decompose faster, but whole leaves work well too. Its best to do this in the fall, so they have plenty of time to decompose before spring planting begins. The leaves will not only add nutrients to the soil, theyll also improve its texture and drainage. This holds true whether your soil is heavy clay or sandy soil. Try adding a little fertilizer to the leaves to speed things along.

Another way to take advantage of leaves is to add them to a compost pile. Again, shredded leaves will turn into compost more quickly, but if shredding isnt convenient, just add them whole. Be sure to follow the usual guidelines for keeping your compost pile productive.

It may surprise you to learn that all tree leaves are not created equal. For example, you should avoid the use of black walnut trees in the garden. All parts of these trees contain a chemical that retards the growth of some plants, though others may be tolerant. If your property has black walnut trees, it may be more practical to grow plants that tolerate their presence than to avoid their leaves.

The leaves of some tree varieties, such as oak, laurel, and pine needles, decompose more slowly than others. All tree leaves raise the acidity of soil slightly over time, but if you add other soil amendments there should be little difference.

Once youve learned just how valuable autumn leaves can be for your yard and garden, youll never throw them away again. You might even collect leaves from your neighbors yards.

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