I don’t have any large deciduous trees on my property, so fall leaf clean-up isn’t an issue for me. But I wish it was. Leaves are valuable! I cringe when I see leaves thrown away in regular garbage (green waste is okay if you have to). Why? Well, because they are free organic matter. And organic matter is key to good soils and gardens.
How to you transform fall leaves into good soil? Here are some ideas for using them:
1)Mow. The year I did landscaping for a condo HOA, I raked only a small section of leaves. For the most part, I’d shred them up with the mower and leave them. I did it about three different times, so I never had over a couple of inches of leaves on the ground at any one time. The leaves nicely decomposed in the ground. It was super easy. This works really well for fine leaved trees like honeylocust (sometimes you don’t even have to mow those), but will also work with the thicker leaves like maples as long as you don’t let the leaves get too thick.
2)Mulch. This year, I piled the leaves nice and high around some spireas. I needed mulch there, and fall leaves are free. It also would work well in sheet mulching to smother lawn and other weeds.
3)Compost. Leaves can be added to a compost pile. They would act as a high-carbon or brown type of compost and should be combined with a bit of something high in nitrogen like manure, kitchen scraps or green material if you want ideal compost. (Although compost doesn’t ever have to be perfect.)
4)Annual Garden. This is probably the most common use I see: adding a nice layer of leaves to the garden. Most people till it in, which could be done in the spring or fall, but it doesn’t have to be. It would work well with a no-till garden by just leaving the leaves there and using them as mulch in the spring. The only caution is if you do till a large amount of leaves in, the high-carbon can eat up the nitrogen in the soil. Don’t do a large amount right before planting, or if you do make sure there is an additional source of nitrogen.
One of my actual fears in life is at some point I’m going to have a lot of leaves and some kind person will feel the need to rake them up and haul them away for me. I love leaves and firmly believe that they are far too valuable to end up in the trash!