Today in this article, I will be giving you ideas on how to use leaves in your garden. If you have trees in your yard or neighbors with trees, you are bound to get some falling in the yard when fall beings. I want to help you to not let those precious leaves go to waste per se. Rather, I want to put those leaves to work to benefit your garden.
When I was a kid, every fall my father had me raking the leaves in the yard and bagging them to put on the curb to be collected. Of course, this occurred after I made giant leaf piles to jump in for a couple of days.
As I got older, I started to ask myself “Why are we raking leaves, bagging them, and putting them on the curb to be collected?”, especially when I saw other people were not doing the same. I got that my father wanted to get rid of all the leaves so the yard looks nice but I always sensed that we could do something else with the leaves.
I saw some people just taking their riding mowers and going over the leaves. Then, I also noticed some people would just rake the leaves into the woods on the edge of their property. In my young teenage mind, I saw that as a way to do less work do what you really wanted to. That logic actually proved to be true to a degree but as I became more knowledgeable about gardening, there were other reasons to do those things as well.
I started experimenting, taking notes from nature and others to start using leaves for my garden. Now, I want to share with you, 5 ways on how to use leaves in your garden.
5 Ways On How To Use Leaves In Your Garden
Use as mulch
I first noticed that leaves could be used as mulch when I did not clean out my garden bags and beds but still had crops growing in them. When I would pull back the leaves I noticed I did not have many weeds and that the soil retained its moisture despite it not raining much. The leaves we not cut up either, they were still whole but dry. By letting nature take its course I learned how leaves serve as a mulch. I now go over my leaves with my lawnmower to be cut up, which then goes into the lawnmower bag or catcher that is attached. Afterward, I dump the mulched dry leaves in my garden beds and grow bags to serve as a layer of mulch. I cut the leaves up because I am doing what nature does on a smaller scale, especially in my grow bags.
Now, if do not have a lawnmower or rather not mow the lawn to do this, you can always purchase a leaf vacuum with a shredder built-in as well to do the job. Another option is to buy a leaf shredder, rake the leaves into a pile and place them into the shredder but be careful doing this. I suggest getting a pair of leaf scoopers if you do the latter. Investments like these can make gardening life easier for you.
Make leaf mold
Leaf mold is partially decomposed leaves. It helps with retaining moisture in the soil by reducing evaporation, absorb rainwater to reduce runoff, and helps cool roots and foliage in hot weather conditions. Simply mulch your leaves, put them in a good-sized pile and cover them with a trap to retain moisture (keep it moist, not soaked) and heat to break down over time. If you do not have a tarp or rather not use one to keep the yard a little more presentable, you can always do this in a compost bin or compost hold.
To speed up the process, add some shredded fresh leaves into the pile to add nitrogen to help initiate the process. Think about it the same way you would do composting with the nitrogen and carbon ratios. It should be broken within 12 months if you shredded the leaves. Once it is broken down, you can mix it into your existing soil and/or lay it on top as mulch. If you decide to lay the leaf mold on top of the soil, do not surround the base of your crops with it to prevent pest and disease issues.
Put into compost
Add your leaves to a compost pile or compost bin. Those dried old brown leaves can really come in hand if you have too much nitrogen in your compost. You want to stick to a 4:1 or 3:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen (browns to greens). Your old dried and brown leaves are considered browns or carbon. I suggest mulching your first before putting them into the compost pile or bin. This helps with aeration, use space more efficiently, and speed up the whole process of composting. You can never have enough compost.
If you do not want to have a random compost pile just sitting in the yard, I highly you invest in a compost bin or tumbler. There is a difference between the two. In short, a compost bin usually has a larger capacity but is not meant to be moved. While on the other hand, a compost tumbler usually has a smaller capacity but may also have mobile capabilities due to wheels being added allowing you to move it around as needed. In addition, tumblers give you the ability to aerate the compost by being able to turn it.
This something else, I discovered when I did not tend to the leaves left in my garden bed and grow bags. There was a time in which some old and damaged tomatoes with seeds in them had fallen off the stem into the grow bag at the end of the growing season, and I pushed it down into the soil to see if it would come up the next year. When all the leaves had fallen off the trees, that grow bag was halfway filled with leaves on top of the soil. The following year, I had a tomato plant coming up early despite the colder temperatures. The leaves served as insulation for the young tomato plant that started growing. You can do the same with some of your young tender crops that may need a little protection from the elements until it is strong enough or established cold-hardy crop such as carrots, kale, beets and so forth to extend the growing season
Leave them for wildlife
Your final option is to leave the leaves for wildlife. Do just as nature attended and allow it to take its course. They provide cover or shelter to beneficial insects and/or animals to help your garden. If you have a snail or slug problem, the leaves may provide cover for a toad that will eat those pests. When creating leaf piles for my children and leaving the piles unattended over the winter, at the beginning of spring when raking of the pile, there was an abundance of life under the pile. I was able to collect earthworms to add to my garden bed and grow bags to assist in aerating my soil and provide nutrients to my crops through their worm castings.
A word of caution. If you decide to leave a pile of leaves somewhere it may invite wildlife that can do you some harm. An example would be a snake. Here in the Mid-Atlantic region, copperheads, a venomous snake that can blend in with your leaves and will strike if threatened. No one wants to be making any hospital trips. So, be mindful of what type of wildlife you have in your area. Consider, taking a long stick, rake, or staff of some sort to feel around before putting your hand down there. This is when placing leaves into a compost tumbler instead is a great idea. Safety always comes first and remember to respect nature.
There you have it, 5 ways on how to use leaves in your garden. Simple and yet effective. You are sitting on a goldmine if you have tons of leaves around. You can now save money on some of the things you would usually buy for your garden just by making better use of the fallen leaves in your yard.
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