There is no easier and more economical way to re-energize and power the soil and plants in your garden and flowerbeds this fall than with Autumn’s bounty of falling leaves!
Although gathering, raking, piling and / or bagging up leaves can be a dreaded chore for many, all of those leaves can be an incredible resource to help power and protect your garden, flowerbeds, bushes, shrubs and trees. And the best part of all, leaves are completely free!
Leaves contain all kinds of wonderful trace elements and nutrients. And, as they break down over time, they give those nutrients back to re-energize soil and feed plants. But beyond their nutritional value, leaves can also be incredible for protecting plants and soil as a mulch, especially over winter.
Whether whole, shredded, or mixed in with the grass clippings from your yard, there are a whole slew of amazing uses for leaves in the fall. So before you go bagging and hauling all of those leaves to the curb, here are some of the best ways to turn them into magic for your landscape!
How To Use Leaves To Power Your Garden & Flowerbeds
Create An Incredible Compost Pile
If you struggle to find enough materials to build a compost pile, fall is THE time to end those troubles! Autumn’s falling leaves provide the perfect base for creating a big compost pile. Even better, one that when built right, can break down fast and be ready to help you next spring and summer.
Leaves are one of the best “brown” or carbon sources of all for a compost pile. And considering that a great compost pile should have a ratio of three to four parts brown for each part green – leaves can be the perfect abundant and readily available source for all of those browns!
Keep in mind there are some leaves that are better for composting than others. Maple, ash, birch, ornamental and fruit tree leaves are all great choices for composting. Although oak leaves can be composted as well, do so in moderation to keep from creating compost that is too acidic.
A good rule of thumb for oak leaves is to add no more than 20% to a pile. This keeps the final PH at a great level for use all over the garden and landscape. See: How To Know What Leaves To Compost – Good Leaves Vs. Bad Leaves
To speed up decomposition of leaves, always shred leaves before composting. The finer the shred, the faster they will compost. A push or riding mower is a great tool for shredding mass amounts of leaves quickly. Adding in old compost or a compost starter to your pile will really help speed up decomposition as well.
Leaves As A “Cover Crop” – Using Leaves To Power Your Garden & Flowerbeds
Don’t have time or the energy to plant a cover crop in your garden or raised beds? Then leaves are your answer – and once again, they are completely free!
There is nothing more damaging to a garden’s soil than to leave it bare over the winter. Winter’s winds, rain, snow and ice can all take turns eroding valuable top soil from the surface. Even worse, open soil is an easy way for blowing weed seeds to find a home to sit dormant until next year.
But you can keep that soil covered with ease with leaves! A thick coating of leaves over a garden, much like a cover crop, quickly and easily protects soil from both erosion and weeds. And as they break down, they also add nutrients to help recharge the nutrients lost from growing this past summer’s crops.
Covering Your Garden With Leaves
When covering your garden with leaves, there are a few simple tips to help make the most of your efforts. Start by covering your garden with a few inches of shredded leaves. These will break down quickly over the winter and help to re-energize your soil.
As a top coat, use a few more inches of whole leaves. Whole leaves are much better at forming a protective barrier to the soil below. They also won’t blow away as easily, especially once they are wet.
Next spring, simply mow over the top to mulch the whole leaves in. They can also be dug or tilled in if you prefer, but leaving them on top and planting through is simple and easy, and far less work! It makes for an effortless no-till garden that plants quickly next spring.
Shredded and whole leaves are great for covering raised beds too. For smaller raised beds, using shredded leaves and grass clippings from your lawn mowers bag attachment can provide big power and protection underneath. Finish with a few inches of whole leaves on top to keep it all in place.
Mulching & Protecting Perennials, Roses & Shrubs – Using Leaves To Power Your Garden & Flowerbeds
There is a long list of perennial plants and bushes that need protection from winter. And there is no better resource in the fall than leaves to do the job!
A two to three inch blanket of leaves placed around the base of shrubs and roses will protect tender roots. The same goes for perennial plants as well. As perennials die back in late autumn, a top coating of leaves will help protect their roots from freezing out during extremely cold or brutal winters.
That coating of leaves also helps to regulate soil temperatures from the wild swings of freezing and thawing. Quite often, it is rapid temperature changes that cause most of the harm to plants over the winter. But a few inches of leaves will help to insulate the soil and minimize freezing and thawing.
As an added benefit, that same layer of mulch keeps competing weeds from taking hold around plants. Leaves are also a great choice to protect over-wintering garden vegetable crops.
Garlic, onions and perennial food crops such as blueberries, strawberries and asparagus can all benefit from a protective layering of leaves. As you will see at the end of the article, you can also easily save leaves to mulch summer garden crops too!
Create Leaf Mold – Using Leaves To Power Your Garden & Flowerbeds
If you don’t have a compost pile, you can quite easily create a leaf mold pile in its place in just a few minutes. And all it requires is a small corner or space of your garden over the winter months.
Although the name may sound a bit scary, leaf mold is an incredible organic humus-like material that can be used in gardens and flowerbeds. And it is made entirely from leaves. Unlike a compost pile, leaf mold is created as leaves mold and decompose.
A leaf mold pile doesn’t heat up like compost. Instead, it breaks down slowly into rich black humus, which is perfect for using around plants, or to enrich the soil when planting. To make, simply use fresh leaves to create a thick pile of wet leaves at least 3 feet high x 3 feet wide.
Like composting, shredding the leaves first will speed up the process greatly. Keep the pile moist by watering, turning it ever few weeks or so. A small section of chicken wire or welded wire fence can be circled around the pile to help keep it all together.
The key to making the best and richest leaf mold is to use fresh fallen leaves. A shredded wet pile can be ready in as little as 6 months to a year. Whole leaves can take a few years to decompose if left on their own.
Store Shredded Leaves For Later Use – Using Leaves To Power Your Garden & Flowerbeds
Finally, how about storing some of those leaves away to use next spring and summer? Shredded leaves are the perfect addition to spring planting holes. They are also great for adding to the soil used in raised beds, containers, planters & hanging baskets.
This fall, shred up large amounts and store in a pile in the garden and cover. Next spring, you will have a ready-made soil-additive that can help power your plants anywhere and everywhere you need.
Here is to using all of those falling leaves to power your garden and flowerbeds this fall – and beyond!
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