by Connie Oswald Stofko
Do you know that there are people who essentially throw their leaves away? They rake them out to the curb and wait for someone to haul them away.
I find that amazing because those autumn leaves are a valuable commodity for your garden– yet they’re free!
Here are five tips on making the most of autumn leaves.
Tip #1: Use leaves as mulch around your perennials to help them survive the winter.
If we have a harsh winter this year, February isn’t the time to try to protect your perennnials. You have to take action in the autumn to protect your plants, as Carol Ann Harlos, Master Gardener coordinator for the Erie County Cornell Cooperative Extension, told us last winter.
We were lucky last winter because we had a lot of snow. The snow acts as insulation and protects the roots of the plant.
But what if we get a winter that’s cold, but not snowy? To ensure that your perennials are protected even then, mulch around your plants now. Leaves are great for that. You can use them whole or chop them up with your lawn mower.
Tip #2: Use leaves to insulate your herb garden.
Last year, Caesandra Seawell, garden manager at the garden at City Honors School in Buffalo (also known as Pelion Community Garden) showed us how they use a thick blanket of leaves to insulate their herb gardens. After two frosts last fall, the parsley was still green.
Then we had a very cold winter.
We checked back with Seawell in May and she said the bed buried under leaves still had sorrel, red veined dock, rue, oregano and lovage.
Tip #3: Use those leaves to create a lasagne garden.
As we told you last week, in lasagna gardening, you layer the material in your garden. The first layer is cardboard or a thick layer of newspaper. Over the top of that, you alternate layers of grass clippings, leaves, manure and peat moss—or whatever you’ve got. You need to build it up so it’s a foot deep. This is a great way to use those autumn leaves.
Tip #4: If you don’t have a lawn mower with a bag, the best way to chop and collect fallen leaves is to rake the leaves onto your asphalt or concrete driveway and run them over with the lawn mower.
Chopped leaves can be used as mulch on top of a garden bed or you can throw them in your compost pile. The leaves will decompose more quickly if they’re chopped up than if you leave them whole.
When you chop up the leaves on your lawn, those tiny bits of leaves will get lost in the grass. That’s fine for the lawn, but it isn’t an efficient method if you’re trying to move chopped leaves your perennial beds or herb garden.
When you chop leaves on a concrete or asphalt driveway, the tiny bits of leaves will fall on the asphalt and be easy to sweep up.
Wait until the leaves are dry. They crumble up much better that way.
Rake the leaves into small piles onto a driveway. Starting with a big pile might seem like a shortcut, but it actually works better if you mow a small pile.
Run over the leaves with the lawn mower, aiming the lawn mower so that the pieces spray onto the driveway.
Last year, my husband, my neighbor and I spent a couple hours raking and crunching up leaves from both our yards. It was a pleasant task on a warm, sunny fall day, and I got several garbage cans full of leaves that I spread on gardens and added to the compost pile. That generous neighbor also got some of the great compost for her garden beds.
Tip #5: Use your neighbor’s leaves.
If you don’t have enough leaves for your gardening projects, don’t go without. As I said at the beginning of this article, many people just throw their leaves away. If your neighbors are going to rake their leaves off their lawn all the way to the curb, ask them if they’ll rake them over to your driveway instead.
And if they go to the trouble of bagging up the leaves, don’t be shy–Ask them if you can have a few bags. I’m sure they won’t mind.