Climate Tip | What to do with Leaves

November 15, 2022

By Rick Bogusch

Bridge Gardens

There’s been a lot of press recently about the value of not raking leaves and removing them from your property, how it’s best for the environment, saves time, effort and money and provides mulch and free fertilizer for your gardens and lawns. I think all that is true, but I don’t advocate letting leaves lay where they fall in all cases.

At Bridge Gardens, nothing is removed from the property, not branches, not garden waste, not leaves, not even tree trunks. We don’t rake fallen leaves in the woods and even add leaves from adjacent areas. We pile them up in certain beds, like the raspberry bed behind the vegetable garden and in a couple of our peripheral brush piles.

Personally, I like a neat, naked garden going into winter, mostly because it discourages foraging activity by voles and makes it easier for raptors to find and dispatch them. But I do cut back the gardens gradually, giving birds and other wildlife ample time to feast on the bounty of the season. Any seed heads and stems for overwintering insects are deposited in compost or brush piles and are available for food and shelter there.


Composting oak leaves

If you want to use leaves as a mulch for garden beds, it’s best to shred them and then apply. You can use a leaf shredder or run over them again and again with your mower to chop them up. I don’t recommend letting them accumulate in a thick layer on lawns. It’s much better to run over them with a mulching mower several times during the season, so they don’t smother the grass. Instead, the leaves will provide fodder for worms, which pull their chopped bits down to root level, providing all the nutrients your lawns need.

We layer our compost bins with barrows of fallen leaves. A 6-inch layer of compressed leaves in between layers of green kitchen and garden waste encourages worm activity and decomposition. We’ve also been trying a new technique with leaves on certain garden beds, namely covering layers of leaves with bark mulch, in the hopes that besides preventing weeds and preserving soil moisture, both will eventually decompose and enrich our plants and soil.

Whatever we do with our leaves, we should start thinking about them as a valuable commodity and not as waste that’s summarily sent to the landfill.

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