Utilizing the Power of Fall Leaves in the Garden

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Fall is a beautiful time of year and a favorite of many. As with any season, it brings a certain type of outdoor work along with it. Depending on your preferences and season of life the many fall leaves that drop or blow onto your property may be a joy or a nuisance. Most people will clean up all the leaves, put them into black garbage bags and throw them in the green waste or garbage. Some hire companies to clean up and take it away.

(Looking for more self reliant and abundant gardening? Check out:

LENTIL SPROUTS FOR CHICKENS (AND YOUR FAMILY) – A PROTEIN PACKED WINTER TREAT

HARVESTING MAMMOTH SUNFLOWERS)

Do you know the value of the resource you’re getting rid of?

Dead leaves are organic matter that can be turned into gardener’s gold! They will break down and give your landscape or garden exactly what it needs to thrive come spring, potentially saving you money in the long run. If you don’t want it, maybe ask around and see if any friends who are into gardening would want it. I’ve even heard of people selling their yard waste to local companies who make and sell certified compost. Wouldn’t hurt to check it out in your area.

Golden sunshine and golden leaves.
Golden sunshine and golden leaves.
Post Halloween clean up.
Post Halloween clean up.

We are very blessed to have four massive maple trees on our property. Not sure exactly how old they are, but from talking with neighbors we estimate they’re at least sixty years old. We love these trees for their beauty, shade and richness that they bring to our life. Each of them drops an innumerable amount of leaves each fall. It has become a tradition for us to spend the weekend after Halloween gathering the plethora of leaves in our yard and putting up the Christmas lights on the house before it gets too cold.

Beautiful frostbitten leaves.
Beautiful frostbitten leaves.

Using Leaves to Your Advantage

If you use leaves another way that we do not cover, comment below and let us know.

  • Massive Mountain of Entertainment- Rake that pile up, let the kids at it and you can bet you’ve got plenty of time to relax and watch them play. Throw a dog into the mix and make that hours. Nothing like watching your kids make angels and do belly flops into rotting leaves to bring excitement to the evening. With that option aside…
  • Compost Pile– We will be doing a post on how to compost in the near future. But if you’ve never heard of compost before, it’s basically just layers of organic waste made from biodegradable materials like plants, grass, sometimes manure, leaves, fruits, and vegetables (kitchen waste). Green matter (nitrogen) and dry matter (carbon) combine and break down to make it. Contrary to what people may think, compost piles do NOT smell– or they shouldn’t if you’re doing it correctly. Anyone can do it, it’s really not difficult at all. They even have indoor compost bins for those who have small spaces or just a patio, but would still like the benefits of compost. Here is a 37 gallon Tumbling Composter for those with some patio or yard space and here is an indoor, 1.3 gallon, Stainless Steel Compost Bin for those without outdoor space. Overall, this composting strategy is perhaps the easiest because you can just dump it into the pile or bin, add some water, mix it around here and there over the next three to six months and you’ll have beautiful plant food for your garden or plants ready to go.
  • Natural, Chemical Free MulchLeaves make a great mulch barrier so that weeds do not take root in your garden beds. They also retain moisture. They eventually break down and give your landscape the organic nutrients it wants. The downside is that they are not decorative, dyed mulch if you’re going for that look.
  • Shred Without Mower Bag, Multiple Times During Fall Season- If you’re not into gardening and don’t have landscaping you’d like to use compost for but have a green lawn, then this is the choice for you. Simply mulch the leaves a little at a time (perhaps every few days), allowing them to settle into the grass and provide a natural layer to insulate for the winter and shed nutrients.
Our lawnmower ready for action.
Our lawnmower ready for action.
  • Hook Up Those Little Ladies- Yes, I’m talking about the chickens! This cannot go without mention. Dump hoards of leaves in the run for the chickens to enjoy scratching, digging and flapping around. It’s incredibly entertaining to witness and also will break down quickly, leaving a nice layer in the run for them to enjoy. Eventually the run can be cleaned out and added to garden beds or the compost pile.
  • Shred, Place Immediately into Garden Beds– This is the method we’ve chosen to do the last couple years, along with putting any extra leaves directly into the compost pile and chicken coop. I’ll show more images of this method below. You can either shred all the leaves by sucking them up with a gas mower, or put them into a bucket and use a weed whacker to shred them up and then dump. If you’re one of the lucky few to have an electric or gas leaf mulcher, well then, this process is much easier for you isn’t it? You do not have to shred them, but we like to because they break down much faster. Come spring, your garden beds will have the added potassium, nitrogen, phosphorus and other trace nutrients they need to produce your crop.

Time to Add to Garden Beds

Shredded leaves ready to be dumped.
Shredded leaves ready to be dumped.

If you’ve neglected your piles of leaves long enough like we did this year because we have a young baby keeping us busy, then this process may take a while. The bag can fill up fairly quickly. See below one of our garden bed areas. This is our third season adding leaves onto this patch and our garden has thrived each time come spring. Notice that we do not have raised beds. While we plan to make some eventually, that has not stopped us from having a thriving garden in this yard the last three years. There are definitely benefits to raised beds, but if you don’t have them, don’t let that stop you from starting your garden!

One of our garden areas, first batch of leaves dispersed.
One of our garden areas, first batch of leaves dispersed.
Job finished for the day.
Job finished for the day.

Here’s the finished product above. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but that layer is at least two inches thick.

Don’t Forget to Add Water

Whether you’ve used this method, added them into flower beds as mulch, or into a compost pile- make sure you spray them with the hose to encourage them to stick around. If you’re doing a compost pile, do not drench it. Just add enough to create some moisture. Obviously leaves can blow away in the wind very easily. Extra bonus if it’s already below freezing at night where you live. This means they will freeze nicely and become more compact.

Beautiful shredded leaves- pre soaking.
Beautiful shredded leaves- pre soaking.

Utilizing A Cycle of Life and Diversity

I just love this method of utilizing the power that leaves hold. It just makes sense. A gardening friend told me once that your yard should have an abundance of green and brown materials working for it in every aspect, and that we should do our best to create a thriving ecosystem within our gardens. I feel this is one of the foundational ways we can do that.

(Looking for more self reliant and abundant gardening? Check out:

LENTIL SPROUTS FOR CHICKENS (AND YOUR FAMILY) – A PROTEIN PACKED WINTER TREAT

HARVESTING MAMMOTH SUNFLOWERS)

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Happy fall y’all,

-Rachel

Herbs, Birds & the Bees

4 thoughts on “Utilizing the Power of Fall Leaves in the Garden

  1. So many great ideas! I will be using these this year. We also have a small maple tree in our front yard! Not 60 years old, but still cute! Thanks for sharing!

Thoughts?