Between the early freeze and the recent wind, our trees lost their leaves in a hurry. Once again, we need to clean up the mess. But raking, bagging and sending those leaves to the landfill is not a good idea, so why not use them in your landscape where fallen foliage turns to garden gold?
Here are a few suggestions for living with those leaves:
Mow them with a mulcher and leave them on the lawn. Researchers, motivated to find a way to avoid raking, have found that finely chopping leaves and letting them stay on the grass will return trace nutrients to the soil. The decomposing leaves provide food for earthworms and other soil citizens, holds moisture for grass roots, and builds soil from the top down.
First, make sure the leaves are dry and then, using a power lawn mower, make two passes over the leaves on the lawn to chop them into fine pieces. Move slowly across the yard, savoring each pass as it pulverizes the leaves. If after two swipes the leaves still have large chunks, go over them again to get tiny particles.
Though this technique sounds tantalizingly easy, it must be repeated every three days to ensure that the leaves don’t build up too thickly on the lawn before mowing. Should you miss a round or two, choose another use for your leaves, such as mulching perennial beds.
Oak and cottonwood leaves should be used sparingly in this manner, as they have high amounts of tannin, and take longer to decompose. Black walnut leaves should not be left on the lawn – they contain juglone, a chemical that prevents other plants from growing.
Mulch perennials. Leaves make an excellent blanket for protecting perennials and woody plants from the ravages of winter. In Colorado, thawing and freezing can lift roots, but covering the soil with a four to six-inch layer of leaves will keep temperatures consistently cool.
As long as your trees aren’t diseased, pile their leaves up around your plants and let the ones that blow into the beds settle there for winter. In spring, rake the leaves out and put them in your compost pile.
Compost them. Rotting, dead plants are converted to an organic material that, tilled into the soil, holds water and nutrients for roots to take up. This is a great soil amendment to have on hand in spring.