Another idea for using autumn leaves: make a path

path covered in mulch
Barb Sylvester of Boston has many kinds of paths, including this path covered in mulch. Instead of wood chips, you can use leaves. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
path created using autumn leaves
The last of the hostas blend in with the edges of the leaf-covered path in my yard. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

I was very fortunate to be able to go outside yesterday afternoon and work with my leaves– and I have lots of them.

My wonderful neighbor raked her leaves into my driveway so that I could crunch them up with my lawnmower.

Another friend cleaned up her mother’s yard and said I could have the leaves– which she delivered to my house!

And if that wasn’t enough, there are still leaves on the trees in my neighborhood!

I’m so excited about all these leaves because they can be used in so many ways in your garden.

One way we haven’t talked about before is using leaves to create a path. I got this idea when I visited the yard of Barb Sylvester in Boston on Open Gardens in 2015.

One thing I noticed about her yard was the paths. She has paths made of flat stone and paths of crushed gravel and paths of mulch.

“A path doesn’t have to be elaborate,” Sylvester said.

I took her tip about making paths of mulch and used it for a path I have in a narrow space between my house and a neighbor’s fence. There had been a path of flat stones there, but I had to move the stones when the area was dug up for some drainage lines. I found a different use for the stones elsewhere in the yard and decided to just cover the path with wood chips.

I decided to switch from wood chips to leaves for a couple reasons. First, it took a lot of bags of wood chips to cover the path. Second, the wood chips break down, so to keep the path looking nice, you have to add more wood chips each year. I didn’t want to have to keep buying bags of wood chips, so I decided to use leaves instead. I already had the leaves and they were free.

I like how they look, too, but if you don’t, you could use a base of leaves and cover them with wood chips or other decorative mulch.

I have used chopped leaves on the path, but this year I decided to save myself some work and just use whole leaves. I added about five inches of whole leaves, but they will compact down. If it looks like I need to add more in the spring, I have bags of leaves set aside.

The path is rarely used, so I’m not worried about it having to stand up to high traffic or providing firm footing. However, I’ve never noticed the path being slippery, even if the leaves get wet.

I think that after several years of adding leaves to that area, it could produce some great compost material. That would be a bonus. I could rake off that great compost and add to my garden beds. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Here are even more ways to use up those autumn leaves:

Compost with leaves

Get some basic information on composting here.

Check out this article for more advanced information on balancing the ingredients in your compost pile to speed up the decomposition process. According to a Cornell University factsheet on composting at home, one of the difficult things about balancing your “greens,” such as food scraps, with your “browns,” such as autumn leaves, is that you need so much more browns. If you save a bag or two of leaves, you can continue to add them to your compost pile throughout the year.

Get more information on composting here.

Mulch around your perennials

When the temperatures get very cold, it’s good to have an insulating layer on top of the soil to protect the roots of perennials. Snow can act as insulation, but sometimes there’s no snow cover when the temperatures turn frigid. That can cause the roots of the plant to heave out of the ground.

To prevent that, spread a layer of leaves around your perennials.

Extend the season in your herb garden

Cover your herbs with a thick blanket of autumn leaves and you may be able to harvest them for weeks to come. See this video from November 2013. Caesandra Seawell, garden manager at the garden at City Honors School in Buffalo (also known as Pelion Community Garden), covered her herbs in the autumn and in May still had sorrel, red veined dock, rue, oregano and lovage under that thick layer of leaves.

Create a new garden bed with lasagna gardening

You can create a new bed over a patch of lawn without digging using lasagna gardening. As the name suggests, 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.

More tasks

If you’re caught up with all your raking and leaf chores, here are more tasks you can do in your autumn garden while the weather is mild.















6 Comments on “Another idea for using autumn leaves: make a path

  1. Hi Ann, that works well in Western New York. It sounds like you might live in California. If so, contact the Master Gardeners in your state for advice. They will be able give you advice that works in your area. I hope that helps.

  2. Thank you for this article.

    I have a small front yard with 4 narrow paths so I can easily tend to my drought resistant plants. The path leading to the faucet hose is various flat stones. The other 3 are dirt.

    I’m rearranging the paths to make up for plants that died during the summer.
    I was thinking about covering those narrow paths with leaves I get all year round from my California live Oak in the back yard.
    Any comments on my thinking?

  3. Hi Carly, the leaves might blow around if they are dry and separate. Once the leaves form a layer, they will probably stay in place. All the leaves need to stay wet for a while so they bond together. You could also coarsely chop the leaves. Chopped leaves seem to settle in place and don’t blow away.

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