Skip The Rake And Leave The Leaves

Dated: 10/31/2017

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Skip the Rake & Leave the Leaves for a Healthier, Greener Yard

Borrowed from and

fallen leaves

Nature's autumn bounty of fallen leaves isn't usually a problem for lawns and gardens, and mulching the ground with them actually helps to feed the soil for a healthier yard.

Fallen leaves, as an additional physical layer of organic materials above ground, provide food, shelter, and nesting or bedding materials to a variety of wildlife, as well as overwintering protection for a number of insects, all of which work together to contribute to a healthy yard. The soil itself is also a beneficiary of this autumnal gift of fallen leaves, as the leaves are essentially composted over time into nutrients that feed both the next year's 'crop' of grass, but which also feed a vast number of microbes in the soil, which are actually the most important 'crop' you can grow, considering that all plant life in your yard depends on a healthy soil biology.

According to National Wildlife Federation Naturalist David Mizejewski, “Fallen leaves offer a double benefit. Leaves form a natural mulch that helps suppress weeds and fertilizes the soil as it breaks down. Why spend money on mulch and fertilizer when you can make your own?”

However, just leaving the leaves to lay where they fall in the autumn isn't the most effective way of getting the most benefits out of them, as sometimes they can really pile up in areas where they may effectively smother a section of the yard, but there are a number of different ways to approach your leaf harvest, depending on your particular situation.

Leaves can be a great additive to a home compost pile, and by keeping a pile of it next to the compost, leaves can be used to cover layers of kitchen food waste throughout the winter. Fallen leaves can also be used to reclaim sections of the yard that are marginal, just by building a huge leaf pile there and letting it sit all winter. By the spring, the lower part of the leaf pile will be converted into rich soil, while the middle and top layers can be used as mulch or dug into spring garden beds as a soil amendment.

If none of these uses for fallen leaves work for your situation, you can look into local options for leaf drop-offs, where this yard waste is collected at a central location and then turned into compost and mulch, and although this option does still require raking and bagging, it can keep this potential natural resource out of the waste stream.  According to this Calvert County Recycling Guide, you can drop off your yard waste at the Appeal Landfill to be recycled, but there is a fee.

Tips for Recycling Your Leaves:

Mulch small amounts of leaves directly into your lawn.Instead of sending your leaves to the landfill, consider recycling them to feed the plants in your garden. Leaves are a great, free source of nutrients and insulation for your garden if used correctly, and you can keep your lawn neat while still allowing nature to work its magic. Here’s how to make use of fallen leaves in your garden.

Mulch Mowing

The easiest way to recycle fallen leaves is simply to leave them alone. Up to an inch or two of leaves can be mowed and left to break down in your lawn, adding nutrients and a bit of mulch to your lawn grass. Make sure your lawn mower has a mulching function and sharp blade, so that the leaves are thoroughly shredded and spread thinly. 

Shredding Leaves

If you have large amounts of leaves, you can use them for other purposes in the garden, but they must first be shredded. Whole leaves (especially large ones) form an impenetrable, moldy mat that will suffocate nearby plants and make a mess. There are several ways to shred leaves:

  • Lawn Mower: Mow over leaves while on the ground with the lawn mower and either pick them up with the bag attachment or rake up after shredding.

  • String Trimmer: Rake up leaves and put them in a garbage can. Crank up your string trimmer and use it to shred the leaves while in the can.

  • Leaf Blower: Use the shred and vacuum feature on some leaf blowers.

  • Shredder: Run leaves through a commercial shredder.

Uses for Shredded Leaves

Once you’ve got a nice pile of shredded leaves, there are many great uses for them:

  • Compost Pile: Add shredded leaves to a compost pile. Shredded leaves are a great source of carbon for the compost pile. Layer them with nitrogen-rich waste such as leaf clippings, and keep some extra on hand to sprinkle over messy kitchen scraps.

  • Leaf Mold: Some gardeners like to process leaf compost separately to produce a super-rich mulch and soil additive called leaf mold.

  • Container booster: Fill your planting containers about half-full of tightly-packed leaves, then add regular potting soil and plants. The leaves will break down slowly and feed the plant, saving on the cost of potting soil.

  • Instant bulb bed: To create a bed of spring woodland bulbs such as daffodils, first layer shredded leaves and topsoil, then place a layer of bulbs, then cover with layers of leaves and topsoil to about 8”- 10” deep.

  • Mulch: Spread shredded leaves around shrubs, trees, flowers, and vegetable gardens to use as Mulch. Use leaves in areas that need deep mulch, such as back behind large shrubs wher it's hard to keep weeds under control.  Since leaves tend to blow in the wind, you may find that your mulch migrates back into the lawn on windy days. If this is a problem in your yard, try sprinkling the mulch with water or adding a thin layer of regular wood mulch, pine straw, or topsoil on top.

Leaves are great for suppressing weeds under shrubs.Gardening Tip

Many tree leaves (including black walnut, eucalyptus, and sycamore) beat the competition by releasing chemicals that inhibit the sprouting and growth of seeds. If you’re planting new seeds or transplanting seedlings, hold off on the leaf mulch until the plants are established.

  • Garden blanket: Mound leaves around and over tender perennials and shrubs to provide extra winter insulation. In the spring, gradually remove the leaves to allow the soil to warm. You can also move containers of perennials and shrubs to a sheltered area and bank with leaves for the winter. Keep some extra leaves on hand to cover plants in case of a surprise spring freeze.

  • Amend soil: Leaves are full of nutrients and very beneficial additives to both clay and sandy soil. Use leaf compost, or simply spread a thick layer of shredded leaves on your vegetable garden to be tilled into the soil. The leaves will break down slowly in the ground and substantially improve the quality of your garden soil.

Other Leaf Recycling TShredded leaves break down much faster.ips

A few parting thoughts as you go to work recycling those leaves:

  • Leaves are often acidic. Check your soil pH and amend with lime, if necessary, to keep the pH neutral.

  • Avoid mulching with tree seeds, such as maple tree “helicopters” and oak tags. You’ll end up with a lot of sprouts to pull!

  • Tougher leaves, such as oak leaves, are slower to break down. For this reason, you may choose to compost them separately or mix them in with other types, keeping in mind that some will break down faster than others.

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Robert Gholl

Robert is the co-founder and Broker at PAX Real Estate in Prince Frederick, Maryland. He brings with him over 30 years experience building successful companies as an entrepreneur and business owner. W....

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