The Value of Fallen Leaves

Spread fallen leaves on your flower or vegetable gardens to enrich the soil and reduce weeds.

Garden soil benefits from a yearly application of organic matter; otherwise, your soil will become less fertile over time. I recommend that you add no less than two to four centimeters (3/4 to 1 ½ inches) of new organic material to your beds each year, in either spring or fall. Leaves are an excellent choice as they are readily available at this time of year. I add generous quantities of fallen leaves OR finished compost (which is the same thing, only cooked longer) every year.

Apply fallen leaves to the surface of your garden soil 10 to 15 centimeters (four to six inches) deep. I spread leaves as a winter mulch around most of my perennials. This insulates the soil and eliminates weeding early in spring. Every fall, I also spread a layer of leaves 5 to 7 centimeters (2 to 2 ½ inches) deep over my entire vegetable garden. Come spring, I rototill them under, adding valuable organic content to the soil.

Large leaves such as maple and catalpa can form thick mats, keeping water and air from the soil, and some leaves such as oak and beech take a long time to break down. Chopping your leaves into small pieces speeds decomposition and increases air circulation to the soil.

To chop leaves, run them through a shredder if you have one, or run over them with a lawn mower. A power mower with a grass catcher makes this task easier, as you can collect the shredded leaves as you go. Make sure that your mower is set at its highest setting, and keep in mind that dry leaves shred more easily.