Leaves are little storehouses of carbon (organic material) and trace minerals. This is something that is usually in short supply in most soils. They are too valuable to bag up and send to a landfill. There are lots of ways to use leaves that to take advantage of the benefits they can provide to your yard and garden. Leaves also are a source of trace minerals and elements like calcium and magnesium. A good healthy yard and garden is supported by a good composting system. A good compost mix includes a blend of nitrogen (green and moist items like grass and plants) and a source of carbon (brown items like leaves). When next summer comes and your garden/yard starts to generate green materials (grass clipping) and you wish to compost the grass clippings you will be short of carbon to make the best compost you can – so save your leaves now! Trees generate a lot of leaves and usually more than the average home can use in a compost system. Leaves not only are great sources of carbon but they are an excellent soil amendment. If leaves are added to soil they provide organic matter, a fantastic moisture retainer (they can hold between 3 – 5 times their weight in water) which helps soils retain up to 50% more moisture thus helping deal with dry periods, they add fluffiness (loft and tilth), and they connect you to a natural cycle.
Extra leaves can be used as mulch, added to a compost bin or turned into Leaf Mold.
Mulch is a layer of material that covers open ground in your garden and serves several purposes – protects the soil from erosion, regulates the soil temperature, retains moisture, suppresses weeds, and does this all for free. The best way to mulch is to apply some sort of organic material over the entire area (compost, fresh grass clipping, semi-rotted manure, seaweed, fully moulded leaves, etc) and cover with 2 –3 inches of leaves (or 1- one and a half inches of shredded leaves). Since leaves or leaf mold does such a great job of retaining moisture you need to ensure that the mulch does not cover plants and that there is a little space around the plant so that it avoid problems with pests and diseases.
Advantages of shredding – increases the rate of decomposition, increases surface area of the leaf, allows more moisture to pass through the mulch or molding pile since the leaf will not shed the rainfall or water application, and reduces volume of the leaves (3 bags of leaves ~ 1 bag of shredded leaves). Ways to shred leaves (wear the appropriate safety equipment gloves, hearing and eye protection) –
Use a leaf shredder/mulcher machine (Earth's General Store has one)
Use a lawnmower – pass over the leaves several times. If you are doing this to add organic material to your lawn then leave the mowed leaves where they fall but if you wish to collect them to use them somewhere else then mow them on the sidewalk or driveway since they will be easier to sweep/rake up
Put the leaves in a garbage can and insert a weed eater machine and turn it on (best to have the lid covering most of the bin so less dust is thrown up.
Also you can rake up the leaves in the gutter of a roadway since cars will crush the leaves and provide a very nice product. Avoid leaf litter that is obviously contaminated by oil or anti-freeze.
If nature gives you leaves – make mold! When you walk through a deciduous forest in the fall or spring you will notice a smell. It smells a little musty/earthy – but healthy. If you kneeled down and pulled back some of the leaf litter that is covering the ground you would see leaf mold (it would be the dark crumbly material that is closes to the actual ground and it would be damp). Nature makes leaf mold on a continuous basis because it knows what is good for itself. Leaf mold is a valuable ingredient in a healthy landscape and we can help nature along to make this wonderful material for our own use. Leaf mold is composting without adding the green component of a regular compost pile. Leaf molding is a slow and cold process (regular composting process is a hot process caused by the biological activity – hungry and very active bacteria) done by fungal activity.
The following is the process I started using many years ago and have tweaked it only a little over the years: read more... »