Fallen leaves are an incredibly rich source of organic matter. If you have deciduous trees in your community, use as many of those wonderful pieces of organic nutrient-dense fertilizer that you can get your hands on!
Every fall we put up a sign in front of our foodscape that says “we want your leaves”…and…lo and behold…the leaves magically appear! It’s hard to beat free and delivered when it comes to garden nutrients!
Here’s what to do with leaves:
- Mow over them with a mulching mower to shred them (or figure out some other way to break them into small pieces)
- Add the shredded leaves directly to vegetable beds accompanied by a source rich in nitrogen (coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, grass clippings, a nitrogen fertilizer) -see why below
- Add them as a mulch under fruit trees, grape vines and other perennial beds
- Save them to use as a mulch in vegetable beds next year, after planting and the soil warms up
- Make compost with them when green materials are available
FRIENDS DON’T LET FRIENDS WASTE THEIR LEAVES. If you end up with more leaves than you can possibly use before next fall, see if your neighbors can use them or see if there is a green waste facility that will take them for a composting program. Do what you can to keep them out of the landfill.
Click here to see how we foodscaped our front yard filling raised beds with primarily brown leaves and coffee grounds!
More info on leaves and how they break down:
As leaves change from green to brown (a sign of lessening chlorophyll) the tree is transferring energy to be stored for use next spring. The resulting composition of the brown leaves is high in carbon. In order to break down quickly, brown leaves need to be in contact with materials that are high in nitrogen.
So, to make compost quickly with them, they need to be mixed with ‘green’ sources like green-grass clippings, vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, etc. And consequently, if brown leaves are incorporated directly into garden beds without an additional nitrogen source, they tend to temporarily tie up available nitrogen in the soil while they break down, which can lead to nitrogen stunted plants. On the other hand, if they are left on top of the soil (used as a mulch), they will break down slowly and be an excellent mulch while they do.
In natural deciduous forests, trees create their own mulch layer: suppressing weeds, conserving soil moisture, and cycling organic matter back to the soil!!