We love the stunning autumn tones of deciduous trees when they colour, however after their spectacular fall show, comes the deluge of mountainous piles of leaves. So here is my list of the top 10 things to do with leaves that fall from deciduous trees
1. Leave them. 😊 Doing nothing is the easiest way to handle them if you can, as you simply let them stay where they fall. This is the ultimate in sustainable gardening practices – no petrol blowers and no sweating or aching body from wielding a rake. It can be quite therapeutic if you watch the leaves drift to the ground. You will feel the tension, stress and anxiety slip away. This simple process is the cycle of life as it would happen in nature and the leaves will form leaf litter and naturally break down to be reabsorbed back into the soil.
2. Kick them, scuff through them, and jump on them. Even as an adult I love to do this…………………. and sometimes I even get the kids to join in!? Another great one for relieving stress, tension and worry. And that’s something we all needed more of, this autumn in particular!
3. Have fun with them. Get creative and rake your leaves up into a fun shape. Our family has treasured memories of a giant teddy bear and then a crocodile. This is true organic art!
4. Move them to where they can break down naturally. If they fall on paths and driveways, simply gather them up and throw them onto the garden where they can break down naturally and become part of the nutrient cycle.
5. Use them as mulch. If you have large deciduous trees this might mean that you don’t need to buy other mulches and can save money and possibly even the carbon footprint of making a commercial mulch and getting it to you. This is great for smaller leaves but larger leaves like those of plane trees might need to be chopped up with the mower before they can be used in this way. Of course, if you have underplanting under your trees you will need to shake the leaves off these other plants, so they don’t get smothered.
6. Make a mulch for acid loving plants. For those lucky enough to have oak leaves, they can be used to lower soil pH, making a perfect mulch for camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons and daphnes. Share them with family and friends and they will love you for it! In years past, I remember cars lined up early in the morning along certain Hills streets which were lined with oaks. The car boots were open and their drivers busy gathering bags of oak leaves for their gardens. You are not allowed to collect those leaves anymore, so find someone with an oak tree and befriend them.
7. Add them to your compost. The best way to do this is to bag up leaves in old chaff or fertiliser bags and simply add a layer of leaves every time you add some fresh green garden material or kitchen scraps. One of the major challenges with compost bins is not having equal parts of fresh and green material to dry and brown material such as dry leaves. So, making a stash of dry materials for the future ensures compost success.
8. Make leaf mould. This is a valuable source of organic matter to increase your soil’s water holding capacity, and thus reduce the water requirements of your garden. Make a bay from four-star droppers spaced 1m apart, and either attach corrugated iron sheets or similar to make solid sides, or wrap chicken wire around for open sides. Then simply pile your leaves inside and let them break down. The process can be accelerated by adding a layer of organic fertiliser or manure for every 15-30cm layer of leaves. Chopping the leaves up finer with the mower and turning this brew will also help to make leaf mould quicker. Finally keep the pile moist in the warmer weather by adding water while in winter you may need to cover the bay to stop it getting too soggy.
9. Make mower mulch. Simply leave your leaves and other leafy garden clippings on your lawn and run the mower over them. This increases their surface area and thus helps them to break down quicker. Use as a mulch straight onto garden beds, ideally after feeding the garden with an organic fertilizer to help further accelerate the break down process or add it to your compost heap.
10. Share them. Give leaves away to friends and family who are paying for mulch or wanting to get the raw materials to balance out their compost systems.
So hopefully after reading this you will no longer view them as a nuisance, but rather a precious resource, a valuable raw material.