Fall is here! The leaves are turning gold, russet, coral and burgundy and dropping in the slightest of breezes. The ground is slick with leaves in the rain which turn to a glittering wonderland in the early morning frost.
It would be lovely to just leave them where they fall, but like so many gardeners, suburban and urban homesteaders across the country; there are city ordinances which need abiding by and one must keep up appearances for the good of the neighborhood. So rather than listening to the chatter of birds as they feed before winter, out come the leaf blowers to fill the warmer autumnal days with noise.
I own a leaf blower, I have no idea how to use it and I don’t want to use it and add to the fossil fuel burning but my family use it when I’m away.
I tackle the gardens with a lawn rake to gather the leaves. I rather enjoy the cardio exercise I get from raking the leaves and a sense of satisfaction at how many large piles of leaves I can create in the backyard alone!
This post is to answer that annual question “What do I do with all of these leaves?” and how you can turn all those leaves into something useful in the garden rather than filling the trash can with them.
7 ways to use fallen leaves
You might not be able to do all of the things on this list but I hope it will inspire you to get creative with what to do with fallen leaves which fall in your garden or neighborhood.
I’m fortunate to have lots of deciduous trees in my garden and I have a kind elderly neighbor who gives me the leaves from his yard too.
1. Leaf mold
This isn’t as dodgy as it sounds but it is a way to turn leaves into a humus rich soil amendment which can be used all over the garden.
Below is a picture of leaf mold after one year. It is a light, airy texture and a dark brown which is almost black. Depending on where you live and what you mix in with the leaves, leaf mold can take 2-3 years to be ready. I was very lucky that it was ready in a year.
Leaf mold is very easy to make, all you need is some chicken wire and maybe some wooden stakes to use as a support if you make a larger leaf bin.
My leaf mold bins are just a tube made by tying the cut ends of the chicken wire together.
Fill them with leaves, get into the bin and squash the leaves down to fit more of them in.
As the winter rains and snow comes, the level of leaves will decrease and the leaves will start breaking down into lovely leaf mold.
You can spread leaf mold as a top layer on the garden, incorporate it into your seed compost, till it into your beds and top up your containers with it.
Fallen leaves make a fantastic mulch; spread them on thick on the bed. You can chop or shred the leaves first. I have done both; last year the vegetable garden was covered in unshredded leaves before winter and they have all been taken into the soil.
Below is one of my biodynamic beds mulched to protect the grapevine planted in there and to stop the squash from growing.
Mulching doesn’t just apply to beds, you can mulch containers with leaves too!
Or you can mulch around newly planted trees to help get them established.
Chopping leaves with the lawnmower will shred them up nicely to use as a mulch with cut grass and can help them break down quicker.
3. In the Coop
I use fallen leaves in my chicken coop for two reasons; 1 it is free and 2 if I just pile up leaves in their run the girls dive into the pile and scratch the leaves all over the run effectively covering the run floor with “bedding” themselves with no extra work on my part!
I sprinkle some treats in the leaf pile as I add a bucket-full to provide additional entertainment for the hens as the scratch through it.
The leaves work as a boredom buster and they can be added to the leaf mold bin or the normal compost heap when they are covered in poop in the run. It saves money on adding the bought straw to the coop run too!
4. Leave Them Be
Leaf litter provides a valuable overwintering habitat for many butterflies, moths and other beneficial insects. By raking up the leaves and removing them, you remove the habitat for these beneficial bugs. Caterpillars and bugs are an important source of food for birds in early spring too. Other animals also use leaf litter as a source of food or shelter including chipmunks, box turtles and salamanders.
5. Compost Them
If you have plenty of green material to compost add leaves to the heap or pile to provide a good carbon rich layer. You can also keep leaves in leaf bags or garbage bags to use in the following year as a brown layer for the compost heap in the late spring.
6. For the Lawn
Lawns need feeding too to look their best and depending on your HOA or city ordinances you might be able to shred the leaves with the lawnmower and spread across the lawn or grass to break down over winter to feed your lawn. If your lawnmower has a mulch function this process is even easier!
7. Bulk up Raised Beds
Fallen leaves are great when you are making a raised bed. You can use them as a filler in containers as well as raised beds.
They can be used in Hugelkultur systems like the bed below:
Or if you are building a raised bed with cardboard, you can add them on top of the flattened cardboard boxes before manure or compost is added.
Leaves are often used in no-dig gardens, lasagna gardens or back to eden gardens as sheet mulch.
If you have any fallen leave uses and tips, or anything else gardening or homesteading related please share them in the comments or at the Misfit Gardening Community Forum, we would love to hear your ideas and tips.