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Using Autumn Leaves in the Garden

By October 28, 2011

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It is my favorite time of year, which may be a surprise, considering how much I love my garden. And while it's bittersweet, putting most of my garden to bed is a lovely experience when it can be done in cool, crisp weather with hundreds of flame-colored leaves drifting down around me.

There is, of course, a more practical reason for my love of fall. All of those leaves go to work in my garden, improving my soil. I have six large shade trees on my lot, and I still find myself stealing my neighbor's leaves off of the curb. It's a sickness, I tell you....

Anyway. There are five main ways I use leaves in my garden:
1. Shred them with a lawn mower (or a chipper/shredder, if you've got it) and use them to mulch garden beds after the ground freezes.

2. Shred them and dig them into your garden beds. They'll break down over the winter, and your soil will have received a nice dose of organic matter.

3. Make a lasagna bed!

4. Keep a bag or a few buckets of them, and set them aside to add to your compost pile throughout the winter. Anytime you add food scraps or other "green" stuff to the compost pile, throw some leaves in there, too.

5. Make leaf mold.

Leaves also work well in your vermicomposting bin, but don't add too many, because they can mat down and create an anaerobic environment for your worms.

Do you hoard your fall leaves? What's your favorite way to use them in the garden?

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October 26, 2009 at 3:09 pm
(1) jennifer Czerwonka says:

Great article on lasagna gardening! I would really like to try it in a few of my beds. I have a wonderful shade garden in the back and would like to build up the compost there. I was wondering though, do I need to clear our the hostas and impatients or just put the newspaper on top of them? It is a pretty big space with lots of leaves that have fallen from the trees. I could rake it out though if I need to.
Thank you,
Jennifer Czerwonka

October 26, 2009 at 3:59 pm
(2) Colleen Vanderlinden says:

Hi Jennifer!

If you want to save the hostas, then I’d dig them up and plant them in another (temporary) part of the garden, then plant them in the new lasagna bed in the spring. If you don’t want to bother with digging them up, you can simply layer your lasagna bed materials a little more shallowly near the plants, and add more organic matter in areas of the beds where there are no plants.

Please let me know if you have any other questions! Thanks for stopping by!


November 2, 2009 at 2:59 pm
(3) Charlie says:

I have found that in shady areas I need to lay down paper 8-10 thick or the weeds come through anyway, something about how slowly things die in shady areas I suppose.
The ground doesn’t freeze in this part of the country, so I just spread the shreaded leaves from thanksgiving to christmas, works fine for me.
Shreaded leaves seem to be really good for strawberry beds. I spread about 2″ around all of the strawberries and the space in between. Worked like a charm.

November 12, 2009 at 3:31 pm
(4) hilary says:

I love the idea of using the leaves from my trees to cover my beds. The only problem is I don’t have a chipper or lawn mower. If I don’t shred the leaves and just place them on the bed, will they get moldy? Will that be detrimental to the shrubs, perennials, bulbs, etc?

November 3, 2011 at 7:39 am
(5) doccat5 says:

We’ve been gathering bags of leaves from some friends in the local community for over 25 years. We use them in our garden, compost, and vermicomposting bins. We also made wonderful friends over the years, they save their leaves for us and in return we share the extra veggies and fruits from the garden. A win-win all around. We still laugh about the 1st couple of times we went to the door to ask if we could have those bagged leaves. The reactions were comical. But it was killing me to see all that material being sent to the local landfill, however, we wouldn’t take something without asking. It’s been a great ride!! LOL

November 7, 2011 at 3:47 pm
(6) Peter Kurz says:

Leaves in the compost are obviously wonderful.
However I have been told that eucalyptus leaves are actual poisonous and not desirable in your compost heap.
What is the truth about this?
We rake leaves around the drives and they seem to compost quickly once heaped up.
Love Peter

November 8, 2011 at 9:54 am
(7) Emmon says:

I want to thank you for this! It got me adding leaves to my compost bin this weekend!

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