Use Autumn Leaves in Your Garden

Beyond their beauty, autumn leaves offer many benefits for your garden. As leaves fall from trees, they create a natural mulch that helps retain moisture and suppress weeds. They also provide essential nutrients for plants and help improve the soil structure. Here are a few creative ways to use fallen leaves in your garden.

 

Compost

composting with fall leaves

Compost is a rich, crumbly soil amendment made from decomposed organic matter like leaves, grass clippings, and food scraps. Unlike leaf mold, compost breaks down relatively quickly—in as little as six weeks with proper aeration and moisture levels—making it ideal for adding nutrient-rich organic matter to your garden beds in spring.

Fall is a great time to start a compost pile because the cooler weather slows down the decomposition process, giving bacteria and fungi time to break down tough materials like tree branches and nuts shells.

 

Leaf Mold

Leaf mold is decomposed leaves that you can use as a mulch or soil amendment. It takes at least a year for leaves to decompose into leaf mold, so if you don’t have any readily available, now is the time to start stockpiling!

Rake up fallen leaves and store them in a porous bag or bin to make leaf mold. Over time, the leaves will break down into a crumbly, earthy-smelling substance perfect for mulching flower beds or adding to the potting mix.

 

Homemade Mulch

Mulch

Mulch is any organic or inorganic material that you spread on top of garden soil to help suppress weeds, retain moisture, and keep roots cool in summer. A thick layer of mulch also helps prevent soil erosion on sloped sites.

While you can purchase mulch from most garden centers, it’s easy (and more thrifty) to make your own using fallen autumn leaves! Just run a lawn mower over a large pile of dry leaves to chop them up into smaller pieces, then spread them around your garden beds as needed. Be sure to pull back the mulch before planting new annuals and perennials in spring, so you don’t damage their delicate roots.

 

Natural Fertilizer

Fallen leaves are an excellent source of nutrients for plants! As they decompose, they release nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus—three of the primary nutrients needed for plant growth—into the soil.

You can speed up this process by composting leaves into leaf mold or compost (as described above), then using it as a natural fertilizer come springtime. Another option is to dig fallen leaves directly into empty garden beds; they’ll break down over winter and provide essential nutrients come springtime.

However, avoid hand-digging around sensitive plant roots such as those of newly planted trees and shrubs; their roots are still actively growing at this time of year and can be easily damaged by digging too close.

 

Conclusion:

As autumn progresses and winter approaches, take advantage of all those beautiful falling leaves by using them to benefit your garden! From creating leaf mold to using fallen leaves as natural fertilizer, there are many creative ways to use those colorful foliage scraps. So get out there and start raking—your garden will thank you come springtime!

Luke is a passionate environmental advocate based in upstate New York. When he's not sharing tips on sustainability and wellness, you can find him hiking with his dog, Max.

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