Don’t burn those leaves. They are nature’s golden gift of autumn. Leaves made into leaf mold make one of the best fertilizers known. It can be used for potting or setting plants, and for gardens and flower beds. As a mulch, leaves are especially valuable around acid-loving plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, and camellias. Or, dig them into the soil and they will lighten it, allow air and water to enter, and furnish food and a home for useful soil bacteria.
Gather leaves every few days when they start to fall. A lawn sweeper is a handy piece of equipment to have around at a time like this. Or, a flexible rake can be used. If the latter, then you need something to carry leaves in. A gunny sack, bushel basket, large cardboard box, or similar equipment does the trick. An old sheet of canvas or other material spread on the ground also works fine. Heap a pile of leaves on it, draw the four corners up, tie, and carry. A lawn cart carries a lot of leaves at one time if it is a large one.
The most practical use for the leaves you gather is as mulch for trees and shrubs. Use the leaves just as they are and pile them around the base of plants up to a foot deep. They hold moisture in and prevent weeds from growing. Acid loving plants like azaleas, camellias, rhododendrons, broad-leaved evergreens, hollies, mountain laurels and Japanese andromedas thrive best with leaf mulch. If you dislike the appearance of whole leaves, run them through a compost shredder. There are several of these on the market and almost any of them will do a good job. They turn leaves into rough shreds, a confetti-like material, or even a coarse powder. The confetti size is probably the best for most uses. They can help when you mulch around plants playing their role in the landscape just as the solar landscape lights do.
Another good way to use leaves is to spade them under. To do this, spread them about six inches deep on the soil, then with a spade go down through them about six inches into the soil. As you lift the spade of soil, let the leaves fall down into the hole, then drop the soil on top of them. This is one of the best ways in the world of loosening up hard-packed garden soil. Best of all, the leaves keep soil loosened up, allowing air and water to enter. As they decompose, they furnish food for valuable soil bacteria and earthworms. All of these help condition and improve soil.
Composting is another good way to use leaves. This is the way to make that valuable material called leaf mold. To compost leaves, you need a retaining wall. This keeps the sides of the compost pile vertical. To compost leaves, pile them about six inches deep in the composter. Then sprinkle with about one-half inch of garden soil. Add another layer of leaves and another sprinkle of soil until all the leaves are used up. The purpose of the soil is to furnish bacteria to decompose the leaves and add some soil nutrients they need. If the leaves are dry, sprinkle well with a hose. If you intend to use the leaf mold for other than acid-loving plants, add a thin sprinkle of ground limestone with the soil. This neutralizes the acid in the leaves.
A compost pile started like this in the early fall will furnish leaf mold for spring planting. Screen before using for seed flats or pots. Otherwise, the leaf mold can be used as is for planting or fertilizing garden plants. Properly made leaf mold is a rich, dark-colored material no longer recognizable as leaves. It has the odor of good earth. And the odor is not deceiving, because leaf mold is one of the very best of fertilizers and soil conditioners.
Whether you use leaves as mulch, dig them into the soil, or turn them into leaf mold you will profit thereby. Whatever you do, don’t burn them. Leaves are a part of nature’s harvest. Gather them as you would any other valuable crop. They will give shrubs and bushes new life. They will make garden soil richer than you had dreamed of before. Harvest your leaves… they are valuable, too.