Using those fall leaves

So here we are at the end of another summer and the fall season is in full swing across the country.  With fall comes the final harvest, cool temperatures, and beautiful fall foliage to look at.  But it also brings cold rains cleaning up the garden and raking of the leaves when they are done falling from the trees.  Every year homeowners or renters like myself wonder what to do with the bags of leaves that get raked up every fall.  Read on to discover a few quick ways you can use those leaves around the house rather than sending them away.  

If you are lucky enough to have enough property to just dispose of the leaves somewhere else then kudos to you and you may not find this article as useful as others might.  Now if you are like me and you live in a urban house with a small yard and nowhere to just pile up your leaves it gets a bit more challenging.  

The solution most urbanites employ is to rake it bag it and send it off to the dump.  Now if your dump is like mine where it takes leaf litter and composts it to sell back as some great compost then by all means do that.  But keep in mind you can do the same thing at home for free with a little bit of planning and by changing your perceptions a little bit. 

Mulch your garden with leaves.

Now this one is fairly obvious to me since I practice organic and no till gardening but to someone used to conventional gardening or maybe you have never planted a seed this might not be so obvious to you.  

Using the mulch in the garden ties back into recent discovers in what it takes to  maintain a healthy soil.  One of the biggest things you can do to improve and maintain your garden is to keep it supplied with lots of organic matter on top.  I am talking 4-8 inches of organic material which can be a lot depending on how big your garden is.  This leaf mulch does a couple things, it protects the garden soil from wind and water erosion and slowly adds organic material and nutrients.  Your garden will appreciate the extra attention by giving you better yields, less watering demands and maybe even no fertilizing.

This doesn't just apply to existing gardens you can use leaf mulch to cover a freshly dug area to prevent weeds and provide a top dressing of organic matter to jump start your seeding next spring.      

Weed suppresion around trees

If you have ever planted trees, shrubs or other permanent plantings you know that they come with their own issues of watering and management.  Most tree planting guides will tell you to remove all competing vegetation around tree or shrub and keep it that way.  This prevents what they call in the tree business the "Green Death" caused by grasses and other highly competitive plants.  Most people with tell you to use landscaping fabric or black plastic to smother any potential weeds or grasses around trees.

But lets face it they have that stuff in stock so are probably just trying to sell you something that you really don't need.  To smother grasses and weeds like that with leave you can try a couple of methods.  I would usually cut the grass or weeds as close to the ground as I could then smother them with 8-12 inches of leaves.  If you just pile it on the plants you are trying to smother will run out of stored energy before they can break through to the sun.  Now it is not a guaranteed method and some weedy plants may still break through.  Cardboard MulchingCredit: Personal Photo

For a more sure method you can take old brown cardboard and cut it down to a size that will cover what needs protecting.  Then place that cardboard around the tree with space between it and the bark and then cover the it with leaves.  You are left with a highly weed resistant barrier which will still allow water to pass through it.  Plus by using leaves you are providing a steady release of nutrients into the soil which can only help the planting grow.  

Decorative Edging

Pine Needle LandscapingCredit: personal photoThis one is definitely a more personal choice then some of the others.  I feel that needles and leaves from trees make a great decorative and landscaping tools.  Now a lot of people don't agree with me and that is ok it depends on the person and the situation.  

One way I would use leaves is as an edging for a chain link fence .  You know the type of fence that is impossible to mow right next to and eats up weed eater string like a dog eats kibble.   I would do this by cutting it short like around the trees and then laying strip of cardboard all along the fence to act a weed barrier.  Depending on the wind situation you may have to pin the strips using small sticks about 8 inches in length and pounded through the cardboard into the ground.  Then cover the cardboard with leave mulch and wet it down to give the leaves the ability to stick together better.

I would do this in any place that is difficult to maintain around the yard.  Because a yard and garden are meant to be enjoyed and shouldn't be any more work than is needed to maintain it.  I am sure there is lot more ideas where leaves can be used around the yard and I would love to hear about some of yours.  So let me know what you have done in the comments below and we can spread the word.