If you have trees on your property, it is inevitable that you’ll soon have fallen leaves to deal with at this time of year.
When many of us were children, we loved to jump in great piles of them, or enjoy the whiff of bitter smoke as our parents and neighbors burned them — but now we don’t want to add to the pollution problem. So what on earth can we do with them?
Instead of seeing leaves as a back-breaking nuisance to rake, we can think of fallen leaves as a great–and largely untapped–natural resource that can be a real boon to gardeners and homeowners! Here are some terrific uses for fallen leaves.
If you have room in your yard, you can make a nice big pile of whole leaves that will eventually (in six months or so) turn into great compost for your garden or potted plants, rich in the leaf mold that is so filled with nutrients. If you don’t have a lot of room for a big leaf pile, shredding your leaves will reduce their volume (and the time it takes for them to break down) considerably.
If you have a kitchen-waste-and-grass-clippings compost pile, you can also save bags of leaves for use during summer months to cover the sometimes-smelly heap. (In the proper ratio, brown leaves combined with green ingredients such as freshly-cut grass and vegetable scraps make for great compost health. That ratio is usually 50 percent brown material to 50 percent green, although 75 percent brown to 25 percent green is optimum. Given the amount of scraps and grass we usually generate over the course of a summer, fallen leaves become pretty important!) While some sources say leaf-only piles may be left alone, it is generally agreed that you should turn green-and-brown compost regularly to aerate it.
For more on composting leaves, see Composting Fallen Leaves.
And for the composting basics, see Building a Compost Heap.
You can simply rake medium-sized leaves (excluding any that appear diseased) to cover garden beds and borders to a depth of several inches. The leaves will eventually break down, providing protection and nutrients, as well as a happy home for the worms that are so beneficial to our garden soil. Larger leaves will require shredding first.
One autumn, several of us met at a friend’s house to help her rake leaves, gathering them into plastic bags that we then stacked around her partially-exposed exterior basement wall and in the crawl space underneath the cottage that was also on her property. We made a party of it, and she reported that the leafy insulation really saved on heating bills!
Leaves also provide a quick-and-easy way to protect containers from frost: Simply surround the pots with bags of leaves.