Leave the leaves

Contributed by Priscilla Williams, President, Pumpkin Brook Organic Gardening

Every autumn in New England we get to witness a spectacular show when the leaves turn to bright oranges, reds and yellows. But soon enough the show ends, the leaves begin to fall and what remains is a bounty of nature’s very own mulch. Rather than bagging and hauling away this resource, consider the many benefits of shredding the leaves so that they can be used as leaf mulch, right on site.

Using leaf mulch on your property offers several benefits:

  • Cuts down on need for watering
  • Recycles local leaves
  • Controls soil erosion and retains soil moisture
  • Regulates soil temperatures
  • Reduces weeds
  • Mitigates drought stress
  • Adds nutrients and improves soil structure while adding beneficial fungi and microorganisms

Leaf mulch can be thought of as compost waiting to happen. Have you ever been out in the middle of the woods and observed the soil? It’s a rich brown color with a great earthy smell. It’s teeming with beneficial microorganisms and organic matter. This soil is created year after year by decomposed leaves. Fallen leaves contain 50-80% of the nutrients taken from the soil and air during the growing season. As the leaves decompose, those nutrients are released back into the soil and made available to plants. Shredding leaves speeds up the decomposition process and creates uniform, aesthetically pleasing mulch.

Leaf mulch can also be stored to later be used as necessary carbon-rich “browns” balancing out the compost pile. Brown materials can be hard to come by in summer when so many nitrogen- rich “greens” are abundant from weeding and deadheading. If you’ve planned ahead and stored a few garbage bags of leaves in your garage over the winter, you won’t have any problem making an ideal compost come summer.

This fall, consider leaf mulching as an option during a fall cleanup. For example, our company can use a commercial grade leaf shredder, or you can use your own mower to shred a shallow pile of leaves. Leave the results right on your lawn as a natural fertilizer, or put the shredded leaves right back onto your garden beds and reap the benefits!

Or, even easier, don’t bother with shredding leaves. Simply leave a 3-4” layer of leaves on garden beds to protect perennials, shrubs and trees over winter. “Bald” or bare soil in the beds, with every scrap of mulch blown away and all leaves removed, can lead to plant losses in harsh winters with widely fluctuating temperatures. Clean up more thoroughly in the spring.

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