During the time I lived in the United Kingdom, I was surprised to learn the British don’t call the fall season “fall”. It’s strictly known as “autumn” by our friends across the pond. Once, after making the mistake of commenting on the fall weather, I remember being asked why Americans use the word fall when referring to autumn. “Um...” I stammered. “Because all the leaves fall?” Whether or not that’s correct, leaves sure do fall during the fall as everyone can observe. For some homeowners this can be one of the most annoying chores of the autumn season. For others who understand the value of fallen leaves, leaf cleanup is a blessing. So while you’re finishing up your fall leaf cleanup, keep in mind those leaves have many uses for your lawn and garden. Don’t let them go to waste in the landfill.
Fallen Leaves Make Great Compost
One of the most beneficial things you can do with leaf litter is to turn it into compost. If you already have a compost pile, adding leaf litter will greatly enrich the decomposing material. If you don’t have a compost pile, leaf litter is the perfect substance to begin composting. Food scraps, lawn clippings and other organic materials can be mixed in to create a natural, nitrogen-rich fertilizer for lawns and gardens. To speed up the composting process, shred the leaves before adding them to the pile. This can be done with a lawn mower, mulcher or shredder. After six months or so, the compost will be ready to add to flower beds, gardens, containers and even lawns. When adding compost to lawn, avoid spreading more than ½ inch of compost on your lawn at one time. Adding anymore will begin to damage the grass. For even better results, be sure to aerate your lawn first to get the compost down where it will do the most good.
Mulch Leaves and Spread on Grass
Leaves can also be mulched and left on your lawn, providing an excellent source of nutrients and organic matter for the grass. Whole leaves should not be left on your lawn since they interfere with photosynthesis and can turn into a moldy mess during the winter. However, by using a mulch-type lawn mower it’s possible to leave an inch or two of finely-shredded leaves on your lawn. Try to avoid mulching tree seeds such as the samara (helicopter) from maple trees since this could increase the amount of weedy tree sprouts in unwanted areas.
Add Leaves to Containers
Fallen leaves can also be added directly to containers to provide a nutrient boost and to save on potting soil. Simply pack as many leaves into the bottom of your planting container as possible. Once you’ve filled the container half-full with packed leaves, fill the rest of the container with potting soil. As the leaves decompose they will feed the plants all while decreasing the amount of potting soil you have to use.
Bagged Leaves as Insulation
Another use for fallen leaves is insulation. While I’ve never used leaves for this purpose, some folks have reported a savings on their heating bills. To do this, simply collect your fallen leaves in plastic bags and stack them around exposed exterior basement walls, sheds, garages or other areas around the exterior your house. Make sure the leaves are dry before bagging them, and be considerate of neighbors that might not appreciate the look of leaf-filled garbage bags visible from the street.
Fallen leaves are truly nature’s gift to gardeners. They make great compost, mulch and fertilizer that can be used everywhere around the landscape. Instead of throwing them away to be wasted in the landfill, use them to benefit your lawn and garden.