It’s that time of year when trees undergo their annual shedding. But as delightful as the sight of fallen leaves is, raking them is a lot of work. Before you bag up all those leaves to throw them away, consider putting them to good use. There are a bunch of options, ranging from adding them to a compost pile, to using them as an insulating ground cover, to mowing them into your yard for nutrients. Leaves can help keep your yard and garden healthy, and these are some of their best uses.
Create a compost pile
Leaves are an excellent addition to a compost pile. A good compost pile needs a mixture of organic matter that contains carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich material, and leaves are high in carbon. To balance out your compost pile, you’ll want to add in nitrogen-rich material like kitchen scraps or grass clippings. Once you layer your pile with nitrogen and carbon-rich materials, you’ll want to turn it over periodically to add oxygen and speed things up.
If that sounds too complicated, you can also try in-ground composting. To do it, you’ll dig a trench in your garden, add in shredded leaves, cover it up, and then just let it rest for a few months, after which you’ll turn over the soil.
You’ll want to shred your leaves before composting them to make things go faster. If you don’t have a shredder, that’s fine — you can get the job done with your lawn mower. Just create a big pile of leaves, then drive or push your lawn mower over the top.
Use them as an insulating ground cover
Leaves are an excellent insulator, which you can use to protect your fall crops and perennial plants from freezing temperatures. The purpose is to offer protection against the elements, so you’ll want to layer them thick enough to provide an adequate amount of insulation. This will also help prevent weeds from growing up.
Prevent soil erosion
If a garden bed goes for an extended period without plants growing in it, the soil will start to erode, washing away in the rain. Adding a thick layer of leaves over the top of your garden bed will prevent this from happening, while also keeping weeds from growing up in its place.
Make leaf mould, aka the lazy gardener’s compost
Creating a compost pile is both an art and science. If the thought of carbon-nitrogen ratios and aeration confuses you, no worries — you can make leaf mould instead, which is basically just composted leaves. Making leaf mould will take a lot longer, but it’s also considerably simpler and requires a lot less effort on your part. All you have to do is create a big pile of leaves, at least three feet tall, and let it sit for 6-12 months, making sure that it gets adequate moisture.
Since leaves are high in carbon, the leaf mould that you get won’t provide much in the way of nutrients for your garden, but it will help amend the soil, improving water retention while also providing a nice habitat for earthworms and beneficial bacteria.
Mow them into your lawn
If you have a mulching lawn-mower, which chops grass into very fine pieces, then you can just mow autumn leaves into your yard. By running the lawn mower over the leaves in your yard, it’ll break them up enough that they’ll decompose over the winter. In the process, they’ll suppress weeds (good) while providing some extra nutrients for your yard (even better).
If your neighbours complain, just tell them that you’re being efficient. Who knows, maybe they’ll join in and do the same.
Make a leaf pile to jump in
It’s not autumn until you’ve jumped into a big leaf pile. That’s true whether you’re a small kid, a grumpy teenager, or a supposedly serious and responsible adult. Before you compost or mulch your leaves, make a big-arse pile and jump right on in. Work can wait.