Inula Royleana
Midwest Gardening
Fall Leaves

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Now that you have raked or blown and shredded piles and piles of leaves, what are you going to do with them all?  Well certainly don’t send them away with the garbage!  There are so many ways to use those shredded leaves that are very beneficial to your perennials, shrubs, trees and soil.

Fall leaves by the ordinary gardener

Leaves that get picked up by your waste hauler are taken to a compost site, which is great.  But why pay to have them picked up or pay to drop them yourself, let them do the easy work of composting, then pay again to buy some compost?  And there are also ways to use your leaves without composting.  With a minimal investment in a leaf blower/shredder vac you can save money for years to come.

For most uses, it is important that you shred the leaves first to encourage beneficial decomposition.  And whole leaves will tend to mat and prevent water from passing to the soil or trap moisture that may encourage disease, fungus or insects.   Leaves from walnut trees contain natural chemicals that inhibit plant growth and should be thoroughly composted first.
Shredded leaves and grass clippings by the ordinary gardener

  • Leaf Mold is an easy and common use for leaves.  If you have a place where they can be left in a pile without blowing around, the leaves will produce calcium and magnesium rich, peat like compost.  Nature feeds wooded areas just like this.  Without shredding it may take two or three years, but if you shred the leaves first, you should be able to add it to your gardens in a few months if there has been adequate moisture.  You will know it is ready when it begins to smell like you are in the woods, rich and earthy.
  • Compost piles love shredded leaves.  But they are dry and high carbon, so add moist, nitrogen rich grass clippings to balance.
  • Amending Soil with shredded leaves in the fall is a great way to get the garden ready for spring.  They can be dug right into the soil.  Add slow release nitrogen like bone meal, kelp or blood meal to provide the nitrogen the microbes will need to break down the leaves.  See Preparing the Vegetable Garden for Winter for more detailed information.
    Mulch with shredded leaves by the ordinary gardener
  • Leaf Mulch is perfect for winter mulch around perennials, shrubs, trees and evergreens.  Pile it around the plants 3-6 inches deep but do not contact the stem of the plant.
  • Winterize Roses and Tender Perennials by creating a chicken wire cage around the plant and filling it with whole leaves.  Be sure and wait until the plant is dormant and the soil has begun to freeze.  See Tucking in for Winter for more detailed information about preparing your perennials for freezing temperatures, and Winter Protect Roses for tender rose details.

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