I think it’s fairly safe to assume most people dread the mess and work involved in cleaning up all those fall leaves that blanket their yards each year.
Call me weird, but dealing with fall leaves in my yard is one of the highlights of the year for me. While I don’t relish the investment of time in relocating them from the lawn to the beds, I do see it for exactly that–an investment.
For many years, I’ve been gathering, blowing and raking leaves onto a flat area of my lawn where I can grind them up with my mulching mower and then rake them back into my beds as a shredded layer of organic mulch. Even if you don’t have enough leaves to collect from your own yard, you don’t have to look very far to find neighbors or friends who are happy to let you take them off their hands.
It’s money in the bank with long-term benefits. The shredded leaves will immediately go to work keeping soil and roots warmer, retaining moisture, and preventing many weeds from germinating.
Over time, those leaves will break down into rich, organic compost that will do wonders for improving the quality of any soil.
While it’s not an overnight transformation, in a few years, even hard packed clay will improve to an impressive mix of rich loamy soil several inches deep. Moreover, plants and trees love the constant addition of organic matter and nutrients. You’ll love how easy it becomes to dig into that soil when installing new plants, thanks to the work of those decaying leaves becoming a permanent part of what lies beneath your feet.
The steps involved in converting leaves into rich, loamy organic matter that adds life to any garden soil is a simple process.
- First, gather all the leaves you intend to shred onto an area where you can mow over them with your mulching mower or bagging attachment. Be sure not to create a layer of leaves that may be so think that it bogs your mower down. I find that a layer of a few inches works well. I also find that wet leaves may this process a lot less efficient. Try to avoid doing this project when leaves are wet. Mow over your leaves once or twice. Smaller pieces bind together better in the beds and break down faster to improve your soil more quickly.
- Once the leaves have been chopped into many smaller pieces, rake, blow or transfer the shredded leaves directly into your adjacent beds or into a container for redistribution to desired locations. Apply enough leaf mulch to cover the surface, ideally about 2″ thick. While it’s fine to leave a thin layer of leaves on the lawn, avoid leaving any amount that may significantly cover much of your grass.
- While the first two steps are sufficient to benefit from the leaf mulch, an optional third step is to apply an additional layer of mulch on top of the leaves. While it sounds excessive, instances where this may be desirable is if you want to make sure the leaves are weighed down sufficiently to reduce the chance of any blowing away. Or, you may want the look of a more consistent mulch cover, such as pine straw or hardwood mulch throughout your beds. Either way, the extra mulch (assuming it’s not too thick (more than 4″) will provide another layer of organic matter that will eventually break down, adding even more valuable organic matter to your soil).
That’s all there is to it. In my garden beds, I’m happy to say my former hard, red Georgia clay is a rich, loamy, easy to work with soil after about 4 – 5 years of repeated annual deposits. While that may not seem very fast, keep in mind, it’s effortless once the leaves are in place. And once they do break down, as I’ve written previously, it only gets better after that.