Not that long ago I was not a fan of fallen leaves. They were pretty while they were on the trees, but after they had fallen…not so much, because then they had to be raked. And when you have a lot of oak trees on an acre or more of lawn—that is a lot of leaves!! I can literally feel my arms aching just thinking about it, because I sure have been raking a lot lately!! (And I’m not even done!)
(Just one of my leaf piles—that is 5 foot fencing!)
But this was all before I started leaf-hoarding. Now I am asking people to give me their leaves so I can have more!
Turns out leaves are good for SO many things, and best of all they are FREEEEEEE!!! : )
1. They are amazing in the compost heap. In fall, I pile a huge pile of leaves next to our compost. The following summer, whenever I add a good layer of green stuff to the compost, I try to throw a layer of leaves on next. It really helps to balance the carbon:nitrogen ratio you want to have in your compost heap. Pardon my messy looking compost heap—it isn’t pretty, but it sure makes the plants grow well!
2. They are great as a mulch in the garden. I use mine primarily in the vegetable garden as mulch for the paths. It starts out 5+ inches thick and breaks down over the summer to less than an inch. I find it works well to keep weeds down and is such good organic matter for the soil. I’m sure it would be great in flower beds too but I don’t use it in there as I prefer the neater look of wood chips or bare soil. That’s not to say a stray leaf (or 100) doesn’t end up in my flower beds though.
3. If you have chickens, the leaves can be used as bedding material. I run the lawnmower over a dry pile of leaves a couple times to shred it up a little and use it like straw in the coop. Best of all, when you clean the coop and add all that goodness to your compost heap, you already have a great mix of nitrogen to carbon going on! And did I mention it is free?? I have several tubs of this stuff stored away in the shed, ready for winter.
4. Leaf mould (decomposed leaves) is good good stuff for your soil, just rotted down on its own. Worms love you and your soil when you add it! And your plants do too! Learn how to make it here. I have some that isn’t quite completely broken down yet and it is already such good stuff.
5. Insulation. Not for your house, or you—let me explain. If you live in a cold climate like I do (or really whenever you are trying to stretch the boundaries of your “zone”) and you have a plant/shrub/small tree that likes a little warmer climate than you have in winter, you can protect it and hopefully help it to survive the colder climate by insulating it with leaves. For perennials, you can do this just by piling the leaves on top. For larger things like shrubs, by circling the plant with wire fencing and filling that with leaves until the plant is covered on all sides. Obviously this won’t work for tropical plants in my zone, but some plants that are zone 5 (I’m in zone 4, so colder) may be able to survive this way. I was able to overwinter a sage plant last year by covering it with leaves, and they definitely do not normally survive here through the winter. Leaf insulation is helpful even for hardy plants when you have really cold spell in winter with no snow to insulate them. Case in point: I bought this Oakleaf Hydrangea this spring even though I knew it was a zone 5 plant (I fell in love with them at a botanical garden in Madison WI) and while I know I might lose it, I’m going to try my hardest to overwinter it using a cage of wire fencing containing lots of leaves.
We have so many leaves that leaf transport becomes an issue. For big piles, I lay a tarp on the ground and simply rake the leaves onto it, then pull the tarp to my permanent leaf piles.
For smaller areas, I use this pop-up basket. It is super light but sturdy and has handles on both ends. My husband got it for my birthday and, along with my bulb planter, has really been useful this fall!
Watch out—you might become a leaf hoarder too. Or maybe you all knew about how great leaves are and I was the last to know. : )