It is leaf season here at Maplehurst in Pennsylvania.
The trees are almost bare, and the grass is covered in fallen gold. And leaves really are like gold for our gardens.
Leaves help lighten up heavy soils, and they help light, sandy soils become more moisture retentive. They are good for every garden.
Rather than see them as a nuisance, here are tips and reminders for harnessing their goodness for your plants:
- Mow don’t rake
Raking up leaves is hard work, and may not be necessary. Here at Maplehurst, we mow over our leaves with a push or riding lawn mower. Once they have been slightly chopped up and shredded, fallen leaves make a wonderful mulch. A mulch of chopped leaves will eventually break down, feeding the soil and improving its texture. Un-chopped leaves can also be used for mulch, but they could become matted and waterlogged in a way that prevents water from penetrating down into the soil.
- Store don’t discard
Can’t use your chopped leaves right away? Simply store them in a large container, such as a garbage can, or pile them in a protected place. Over time, they will break down into leaf mould, which makes a wonderful additional to potting soil mixes.
- Leave them be
It is possible to be too neat as a gardener. The soil in a forest is naturally rich because no one goes in to clear away the leaves. Especially in a woodland garden, it is probably best to “leave your leaves” right where they are. Leaves are also an important winter cover for wildlife.
- Insulation for tender plants
Each autumn, piles of leaves accumulate in my flower garden especially. And I’m so glad! A thick pile of leaves makes a wonderful protective blanket for shrubs and perennials. I try to make sure that my roses, especially, all have their rootballs well protected by leaves. If you grow strawberries, chopped leaves are a great alternative to straw mulch.
- Add them to a compost pile
Leaves are a great source of “brown” carbon to balance the “green” nitrogen in a compost pile. You can speed up decomposition by shredding the leaves first, but I generally take a lazy and slow approach to composting, which means I just add them in whole.