Utilizing the Power of Fall Leaves in the Garden

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 fall leaves that drop or blow onto your property may be a joy or a nuisance. Here is how to use fall leaves in the garden.

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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’re new to gardening, learn more about different gardening methods to see which is best for your family, home and lifestyle. See that even as a beginner you can grow sprouts on your countertop and start seedlings indoors using egg cartons that you already have.

Don’t Want the Leaves?

If you don’t want them, 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. It wouldn’t hurt to check it out in your area.

Golden sunshine and golden leaves.
Golden sunshine and leaves.

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 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 Fall Leaves in the Garden

  • 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…


  • See our 5 step process to simple composting. Compost is 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. They even have indoor compost bins for those who have small spaces or just a patio. Here is a 43 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. This composting strategy is perhaps the easiest because you can just dump it into the pile or bin and you’re good to go. There are literally so many other options for a compost pile (including just having a pile on the ground without an outer structure, or DIY builds), but I’ll share photo links below of your many options to research and decide what would be best for you.

“Come spring, your garden beds will have the added potassium, nitrogen, phosphorous and other trace nutrients they need to produce your crop.”

More Options For How to Use Leaves in the Garden

  • 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.
  • 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 the leaves will also will break down quickly. Eventually the run can be cleaned out and added to garden beds or the compost pile. If you’ve felt overwhelmed at the idea of chickens, know that it does not have to be complicated, you can learn more here.
Shred, Place Immediately Into Beds
  • This is the method we’ve chosen to do the last couple years. 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 have an electric or gas leaf mulcher, then great! 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

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 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. After this process 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 garden 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, however 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. Obviously leaves can blow away in the wind very easily because they are lightweight. 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.

Knowing How to Use Fall Leaves in the Garden – A Cycle of Life and Diversity

I hope that helps with learning how to use fall leaves in the garden. 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. In addition, we should do our best to create a thriving ecosystem within our gardens. This is one of the foundational ways we can do that.

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Wishing you and your family all the best on your self reliance journey!

Herbs, Birds & the Bees

Garden, Chickens, Bees & Homestead



8 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!