One of the things I envy about those that live on the East Coast is that they have a typical autumn season. They get to witness the leaves changing all types of gorgeous colors as we begin to welcome the colder months. Children jumping into piles of leaves, all bundled up in their cozy sweaters is just not a sight you see here in Southern California and frankly, I think it’s a shame. But I suppose you can’t have it all.
Then I actually went and raked the leaves in my yard and now I don’t feel bad I’m missing out.
Raking leaves is probably the worst form of autumn torture there is. One day you think you’ve got them all, the next day the trees have proven you wrong. It is a constant battle between you and nature. The worst part for me is bagging them all up. Trash bags are expensive and it seems like a waste to just toss them away filled with dried leaves. There are only so many festive crafts you and the kiddies can make with said leaves and incineration isn’t an option, so what now? Complete the circle of life, that’s what…
One thing I failed to realize is that fallen leaves are actually a garden’s best friend. And the easiest way to utilize these dry tree gifts is to first shred them. Just run them over a few times with your lawn mower and scoop them up. If yard toys are your thing, get yourself an electric leaf shredder. The shredding not only shrinks the pile of leaves down considerably, but also makes it easier to utilize them in the garden.
Once shredded, spread the leaves over all your garden beds, like you would a mulch. They not only protect delicate plants and root veggies from the upcoming colder climates (cover with about 6” of leaves for optimum protection), but also saves you the cost and hassle of buying bark mulch. They hold in moisture and keeps weeds away, just like a mulch, and actually look lovely with their warm fall coloring. Want more reasons? Mixing leaves with the garden soil also enriches the garden beds and encourages earth worms and beneficial bacteria to do their thing to enhance your garden.
To take your leaf recycling even a step further, utilize your leaves and make leaf mold. Leaf mold is jam-packed with magnesium, calcium and other minerals are ideal for plants, but takes a little bit more time and effort to achieve. Store your leaves in a bag (poke holes for ventilation) or a container, keep them moist (not wet) and allow them to break down into a dark brown, crumbly texture. It will take a couple of years to do it, but money can’t buy a better natural additive for your garden soil so it is definitely worth it.
And while I am singing the praises of completing a leaf’s circle of life, I need to stress a couple of things…warnings, if you will. Do not use black walnut leaves. They have a chemical that is toxic to most plants called juglone. In fact, stay away from any leaves that have had contact with chemically treated lawn as well. They will have adverse effects on your garden, completely defeating the purpose. And while you may feel inclined to pick up bags of leaves that your neighbors leave on the curb or leaf mold freebies, please resist the urge. You can’t be sure what kind of leaves are in these giveaways and they could contain chemicals that will be detrimental to your plants. So just stay on the safe side and stick with the leaves you are sure of.
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