Falling leaves are like drops of rain. As individuals their value is insignificant; when pooled together, though, their worth is exceedingly high.
Each fall, nature generously provides us with the raw materials for many dollars worth of compost and garden aids in the form of leaves. The compost is not just good for our organic garden but good for the environment.
Leaves are free, too, merely for the effort of taking and using. Fantastic, you say, but gathering leaves is a real effort – but not if you know how!
Sometimes you don’t have to gather leaves; you can put them to work where they fall. This is particularly the case on lawns when you use a leaf-mulching attachment on a rotary mower.
These attachments, available for most rotary mowers either as standard or optional equipment, do the entire job. They pick up the leaves, pulverize them and deposit them back on the turf as finely ground mulching material. The particles are so fine they easily fall between the grass blades down to the soil. Eventually, they break down and add nutrient and organic value to the soil. Some experts say this is very little, but many grains of sand make a beach.
Suppose, though; you’re more interested in the garden borders than the lawn. In this case, you have to get the leaves off the lawn and walks to a place where you can put them to work. The time-proven method of gathering leaves, of course, is with a lawn rake.
The teeth of a lawn rake are set rather close together so you can rake together many leaves at one time.
Also, the teeth are flexible so that you won’t hurt your lawn. Lawn rakes are usually made of bamboo, metal, or durable plastic; some of the newer models are adjustable to various widths.
Removing Leaves The Easy Way
By far the easiest way of removing leaves from lawns and walks is a lawn vacuum. You’ve seen pictures of them if you haven’t already watched them in operation. They work like a carpet vacuum “inhaling” leaves and twigs and debris on your lawn, collecting everything in a collector bag.
Getting the leaves into a pile is one thing; getting them to where you want to use them is another. Leaves are light in weight but very bulky, and you can’t get too many in a bushel basket.
An easy way of carting a lot of leaves is to rake or pile them on a large square of burlap. When you have a good pile on the burlap, gather up the four corners, and you’re on your way. There are several new twists of this age-old trick. You can get the flat carriers with handles, and there are also special canvas leaf-carrying carts that fold up when not in use. Any one of them makes leaf-toting almost fun.
An ordinary wheelbarrow with its shallow tray won’t hold too many leaves. However, since weight is no problem, there’s nothing to prevent you from building a wire frame for the top which will allow you to quadruple a number of leaves you can carry in a wheelbarrow. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making such a rack, they are available – all ready to attach to your wheelbarrow.
Now that we have gathered and carried our leaves, what are we going to do with them? One of the best places you can dump them is on the compost heap. If you have a lot of leaves, you might even want to make a separate bin for leaves alone.
Leaves will break down fairly quickly if kept consistently moist and you add some compost activator. They should be ready for use in several months. Only they won’t be leaves anymore; they will have become leaf-mold compost – one of the best things you can add to your soil.
I like to incorporate this leaf-mold into the bottom of holes when planting a yucca plant or building the soil in a raised garden bed.
But leaves don’t have to be composted to be useful. They make excellent winter mulches for shrubs and perennials. The best time to apply a mulch to perennials is after the ground has frozen. You’ll also have to be careful when applying to make sure the plants stay completely covered all winter, and you will have to remove the mulch just before they start growing in the spring. Also, use leaves that remain fluffy and don’t become soggy.
When mulching shrubs, though, the mulch can be applied almost any time, and the mulch won’t have to be removed in the spring.
Making good use of your leaves is sound garden practice. In time you will come to welcome them each fall as money in your pocket.
When mulching perennials this fall, you certainly want to mark them, so they won’t be trampled on over the winter.