by Lyn Chimera of Lessons From Nature
Many people dread raking up autumn leaves, but you should look forward to it. Leaves are a free resource for your landscape, a bonus from nature. Don’t throw them away!
Here are five tips on using autumn leaves in different parts of your landscape.
Leaves on the lawn
If there is a light covering of leaves on your lawn, you can mow right over them and leave the chopped-up leaves on the lawn. They will work their way down into the grass and serve as a light mulch that helps add life to the soil, which in turn helps feed the lawn.
This will not cause thatch.
However, a thick layer of leaves left on the lawn can smother the grass by blocking light and air. If there is a thick layer of leaves, the leaves should be raked up or captured in your lawn mower bag for use in other parts of your garden. (More about that farther down.)
Leaves in ground cover
If you’ve ever raked leaves out of ground cover like pachysandra or myrtle, you know what a difficult job it is. Not only is it tedious to do, but raking can damage the ground cover by uprooting stems and tearing leaves. A thick covering of leaves left on top of ground cover will get matted down by the snow and could cause damage similar to thick leaves on grass.
To use the leaves as mulch, work the leaves into the ground cover where it can help insulate the ground to prevent damage from temperature fluctuations. The leaves will also decompose, which benefits the soil.
The easiest way I have found to work the leaves into the ground cover is by using a broom. Simply move the broom gently over the top of the ground cover and the leaves will fall in between the plants.
Leaves in garden beds
Leaves provide a blanket of protection around perennials. This helps prevent heaving of shallow-rooted plants and protects the soil from temperature fluctuations.
In addition, many insects, including butterflies, overwinter in leaf litter as larva, pupa or eggs. Removing the leaf litter eliminates this habitat for these beneficial insects.
In spring, leaves that haven’t decomposed can be removed or left on the ground as mulch. Any leaves matted around the crown of plants should be removed and put in the compost pile. When there are parts of garden beds that have no leaves, I spread mulched leaves from elsewhere.
If you don’t have enough leaves on your property you can easily gather them from around your community. In the fall I always have large leaf bags and a rake in my car. Look for leaves that have already been mulched. No sense mulching them with your lawn mower if you can gather ones that have been done for you. If there is some grass in with the leaves that’s fine too. I simply stop by the curb and rake piles into leaf bags. Some I use fresh for the above mentioned purposes and the extras are stored in the leaf bags to be used in the spring. To store, poke some holes in the leaf bags for air circulation. If you’re storing the bags in the garage, shed or other structure, leave the bags open at the top. If you’re storing them outside, the bag can be closed.
Leaf mold isn’t moldy. Leaf mold refers to partially decomposed leaves, which makes a wonderful mulch or soil amendment. You can even use it in potting soil.
To make your own leaf mold, rake up a pile of leaves (mulched leaves preferred), turn it every so often and add water if dry. In a few years you will have amazing leaf mold.
Another way to do this is to make a large ring with chicken wire, hog wire, snow fencing or some other material that lets air through. Just pile the leaves in. You’ll get the same results.
Closed plastic bags with ventilation holes left outside will accomplish the same thing.