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Posts Tagged ‘fall leaves’

Fall leaves cover the lawn

Fall is such a beautiful time of the year.

Such a beautiful view out the front door!

Such a beautiful view out the front door!

I love to look out into our woods and see the bright palette of reds, oranges, yellows, and browns. Every morning it seems to get more colorful but now every morning there are more and more leaves on the ground, so I know the beautiful fall color won’t last much longer! As I drove down the driveway this morning, the wind was blowing and the leaves were pouring down heavily. The driveway is becoming so covered with leaves that it’s beginning to be hard to distinguish between it and the lawn!

Hmmmm, I guess I know what we’ll be doing this weekend.

But wait … what SHOULD we be doing?

Fallen leaves are a precious resource for us gardeners because they provide a fantastic source of “free” organic nutrients. They are packed with minerals and trace elements that can enhance our vegetable gardens, flower beds, and lawns. There are many different ways that our fall leaves can be utilized but one thing is for sure – the worst place for them is in the landfill!

A 2"-3" layer of leaves covered my lawn this morning.

A 2"-3" layer of leaves covered my lawn this morning.

Wonderful “stuff” can be created with your autumn leaves but there is no doubt that you will get the most benefit and the fastest results if they are shredded first. Unshredded leaves breakdown very slowly and tend to mat down and pack tightly together. This can create a barrier to water and air penetration and your lawn or gardens can literally be smothered by densely packed layers of leaves.

A single pass with my mulching mower made short work of the leaves, turning them into small pieces that will mostly disappear over the winter.

One pass with my mulching mower made short work of the leaves. A second pass created even smaller pieces that will mostly disappear over the winter.

Shredding leaves can be as simple as running your lawn mower over them. If you regularly mow your leaf covered lawn before the leaves get too thick, you may never have to rake a single leaf! A mulching mower will shred the leaves into small pieces that are deposited right on the lawn where they will break down over the winter, providing nutrients to the grass and improving soil structure. This is what I have done for the past few years but this year, I think I am going to rake my leaves and shred them with our shredder so I can use them as mulch on some of our woodland perennial gardens. Our shredder came with a small bag that attaches to the output but I got tired of having to stop all the time to empty it so I made a BIG bag out of a single bed sheet! It’s perfect! Now when we empty the bag, we have a nice sized pile to spread!

A beautiful pile of shredded leaves created by mowing over leaves without the mulching attachment. This pile can be used for mulch or to create compost or leaf mold.

This pile of shredded leaves was created by mowing over leaves without the mulching attachment. It can now be used for mulch or to create compost or leaf mold.

If you don’t have a shredder, you can simply run your lawn mower (without the mulching attachment) back and forth over the leaves to chop them up. These leaf bits can then be raked up and used as mulch or added to the compost bin. Many gardeners worry about leaf mulch or leaf compost changing the pH of their soil but the leaves break down slow enough that pH levels are generally not affected.

Shredded leaves are a wonderful addition to the compost pile. They are carbon-rich (brown) and should be mixed with some nitrogen-rich (green) materials like grass clippings, disease-free garden trimmings, or non-meat kitchen scraps in a ratio of about 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. The ratio is approximate but too much carbon-rich material will slow down decomposition and too much nitrogen can result in a smelly compost pile. Using shredded leaves, a good mix is about 5 parts leaves to 2 or 3 parts grass clippings and kitchen scraps. If you turn the pile every 3-4 weeks and keep it moist (not wet), you can have wonderful nutrient-rich compost to add to the garden by planting time in late spring.

We mulch some of our woodland perennial beds with shredded leaves. It's a "free" natural mulch that looks especially nice in this setting.

Some of our woodland beds will be mulched with shredded leaves. It's a "free" natural mulch that looks nice in this setting.

Leaf mold is another product that can be created from shredded leaves. It’s like half compost – made from just the “browns” without the “greens”. Finely shredded leaves placed in a bin or pile, kept evenly moist, and turned every so often will create leaf mold in 6-12 months. Since the leaves aren’t mixed with a nitrogen source, the process is slower and the end result isn’t as rich in nutrients as compost, but when leaf mold is mixed with the soil, it acts as a wonderful soil conditioner to improve drainage and soil structure. Got clay? Add leaf mold!

Bottom line – don’t waste this nutrient-rich resource by allowing it to fill up our landfills or be washed from the curb into storm drains.

Chop up your leaves and create some goodness for your gardens!

Until next time- Happy Gardening

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