Leaf raking is an autumn task few people enjoy, but fallen leaves do need to be removed from the lawn. If left in place all winter, they can mat together and smother the grass, creating brown patches come spring. The good news is that leaves are actually great for the garden, so use the autumn windfall to build your soil, mulch plants, and create compost.
After the majority of the leaves have fallen, rake them up into a big pile and jump in! Once you’ve had your fun, grab the lawn mower and run over the leaves a few times to chop them into smaller pieces. If left whole, leaves form an impenetrable barrier that even water can’t pass through. Not great if you’re using them as a mulch around plants. Shredding also increases the surface area of the leaves, allowing them to break down quicker.
Many homeowners don’t want to keep their autumn leaves, preferring to put them curbside for collection by their local municipality. If you do any gardening, however, I’d encourage you to considering putting leaves to work in your landscape. They’re free food for your garden. Why give away such a great source of organic matter only to buy compost for your garden in the spring? Here are five ways to use leaves in your garden:
1. MAKE LEAF MOULD
Composted leaves are called leaf mould, which is an unfortunate name for such a wonderful soil amendment. Finished leaf mould is dark brown, crumbly, and smells almost sweet. Yes, I know it’s weird to smell composted leaves, but trust me, gardeners get it. To compost leaves, start a new compost bin, or make a four-foot wide circle with chicken wire. Use wooden stakes to secure the chicken wire in place. Fill with leaves and wait. Once composted, dig the leaf mould into vegetable beds, use it to mulch around perennials, or add some to your containers next spring to retain soil moisture.
2. MULCH WINTER VEGETABLES
As a year-round vegetable gardener, I’m all about extending the homegrown harvest from summer to autumn to winter. How do I do that? With simple season extenders like cold frames, but also by deep mulching root crops with shredded leaves. The leaves insulate root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, and beets preventing the soil from deep freezing and allowing me to harvest all winter long. I also use shredded leaves to mulch my autumn-planted garlic bed.
3. ENRICH YOUR SOIL
No time or space for making leaf mould compost? You can also use shredded leaves as a soil builder in vegetable and annual flower beds now. Spread several inches of shredded leaves on top of the beds and use a garden fork to mix them in. Worms love leaves and they’ll quickly turn them into nutrient-rich castings.
4. STORE THEM UNTIL SPRING
Shred, rake, and bag your autumn leaves and then toss the bags in a garden shed, by the compost pile, or wherever you have space to store them. Come spring, use the leaves to mulch vegetables like tomatoes and squash, or place them around perennials to enrich the soil and prevent weed growth.
5. PROTECT PERENNIALS AND ROSES
Protect roses and perennials from the freeze-thaw-freeze cycle of winter with a layer of shredded leaves. For roses, hill up about a foot of leaves over the centre of the plant once they’ve gone dormant in late autumn. Perennials overwinter best with an insulating blanket of snow, but in recent years, that snow layer has become less reliable. Instead, top perennials with several inches of chopped leaves. Wait until the ground has frozen before mulching the plants. For more gardening tips, be sure to check out my new digital series Get Growing. Find out more on my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.