Love 'Em and Leaf 'Em!
The Best Ways to Use Fall Leaves in Your Organic Garden
fall leaves is a time honored tradition and is
essential if you want to have a spic and span yard. However,
most leaves get "kicked to the curb" after they are gathered.
They get piled up and bagged, burned, vacuumed by the leaf truck
or disposed of in any number of other ways. All of these methods
get rid of the leaves, but they also rob you and your garden of
Instead of being thrown away, leaves can be put to work for you
and your garden in many wonderful ways. Shredded leaves will
work best for most of these uses because they break down more
quickly than whole ones and don't form a dense, water resistant
mat as whole leaves do. Most people also believe that shredded
leaves are the prettier choice for use in their gardens. Leaves
can be shredded with a lawn mower or a leaf blower that has a
reverse and shred setting. If shredding leaves sounds like too
much work, don't despair, just use them whole: they decompose
more slowly and look more, ahem, "natural" but your garden will
still thank you (and isn't as picky about appearances as some of
your neighbors probably are)!
Here are some great ways to use fall leaves in your organic
1. Protect plants from cold weather-- Every
gardener has vegetable and ornamental plants that teeter on the
brink of fatal frost damage year after year. Up their chances of
survival with a cozy blanket of leaves! This will have a
tremendous impact. Just make sure to avoid piling leaf mulch (or
any kind of mulch for that matter) directly up against tree
trunks or plant stems. Doing so will keep them dry and rot-free.
One other caveat: keep your mulch layer relatively shallow when
mulching bulbs and other dormant plants. Two to three inches of
mulch will work just fine. Bury your plants any deeper and they
may rot under their leafy blanket.
2. Make garden paths with them-- This is a good
use for whole leaves. In this case, it's fine to pile them as
deep as you'd like because you goal is to create a weed-free
path by keeping light from reaching those weed seeds. Smother
3. Make compost with them--Leaves can be used as
a carbon rich (brown) ingredient in compost or can be used by
themselves to create a special leaf compost, known as leaf mold,
that is rich in beneficial fungi and well-known for its
excellent water holding capacity. Eliot Coleman, the Maine
gardening guru, claims that leaf mold is "like a heath tonic"
for members of the cabbage and carrot plant families.
4. Add them directly to your soil--increase soil
organic matter, encourage good soil structure and increase
biological activity. Leaves are a great soil enhancer that can
be tilled in or left on top of the soil in order to help control
weeds and protect growing plants too! They make a great mulch
for crops such as beets, cabbage, kale, parsley and kale. A
couple of inches of leaf mulch can help keep those veggies
growing strong well into winter. As an added bonus, those of us
who need mulch for use in our spring and summer gardens can
choose to store leaf mulch in a dry place or under a tarp for
5. Fill in holes and low spots with them--You
know that low spot in your garden where you always seem to turn
your ankle or that little dip between your garden rows that
turns into a giant puddle every time it rains? Fill it in with
gobs of leaves! Whole leaves work really well for this use
because they decompose relatively slowly.
For More Information:
Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman. 1992. Chelsea Green
Publishing Company, White River Junction VT.
Composting fall leaves bulletin by Colorado Cooperative
Real people enjoying real leaf compost.