It’s been a while since I’ve written about the benefits of leaves, so I figured now is a great time to bring that up again, since you’re probably out there raking right now.
If you garden, don’t rake up leaves and just put them in bags at the curb to be hauled away. Why? Because there’s gold in them there bags!
Like other kinds of organic matter, decomposing leaves improve soil structure, making it lighter and airier. They also boost soil health by adding nutrients and enticing hungry earthworms that help aerate the soil as they burrow this way and that while eating and pooping. (They do this for free if you offer good snacks, like leaves, but their “castings” are expensive to buy at the store.)
To add leaves to your gardens, or lawn, you need to first shred them up a bit because whole leaves mat down in our wet, cold winters and can smother lawns and plants if they get too thick. Don’t worry about buying a fancy shredder: I shred fall leaves with our crappy lawn mower and it works just fine.
All you need to do is find a flat surface and rake a pile of leaves onto it; then run over those leaves slowly with the mower a few times. (Go slowly or you’ll choke the mower and have to restart it.) You’ll probably have to rake the pile back into shape once or twice because the fragments will fly everywhere, but in just a few minutes you’ll have a nice pile of reasonably shredded leaves.
Do this over and over again until you’ve shredded all your leaves, or at least as many as you can stand to shred.
If you’re doing this on a lawn, you can run over the leaves in place as long as you’re not leaving more than an inch or so on the ground. In garden beds, spread shredded leaves to a depth of about 3–6 inches. Don’t worry about this too much. I use a plastic snow shovel to hurl them onto my gardens.
Come spring—since winter is so long and harsh—many of those leaves will be gone. The ones that remain can usually be left on top of the soil as mulch, though you may need to rake some away from the tops of plants as it warms up so they don’t get smothered while trying to emerge from the ground.
If you’re lucky enough to have a bunch of leftover shredded leaves, add them to your compost bins or piles. Or bag them up and stick them in the garage or someplace else to use in the spring. You’ll be glad you did.
Little Free Seed Library
For those who want to share seeds, the Little Free Seed Library is still going strong at my house. The library is located on the boulevard on the corner of 45th Street and Washburn Ave. S. in Linden Hills. (For more information and photos, check out this blog post from a couple of years ago: everydaygardener.com/sharing-seeds/.)
If you bring seeds to share, please bring them in envelopes or baggies labeled with the name of the plant — one type of seed per container, please. And if you have old gardening books you don’t want, bring those, too, for other gardeners to read.
Check out Meleah’s blog: everydaygardener.com for more gardening tips or to email her a question or comment.