Love Your Leaves


It's October, but we are not finished with our gardening chores. Sorry! I truly grimace when people say they hate leaves. Since gardening is such great exercise, skip the gym and do some useful labor to work up an appetite for a big pot of chili on a cool fall day!

Deciduous trees shed leaves because leaves and snow don't go together. Shedding the leaves makes the tree “skeletons” lighter and better able to withstand the heavy weight of snow and ice. The loss of leaves also conserves water that would normally be lost through the leaves. It took a lot of food and energy to grow thousands and thousands of leaves. And you want to just throw them out?

Let's just get at it. I know there are leaves on top of some of your plants. You could simply leave them (pun intended!) but piles of leaves can smother plants taking up oxygen as they decay. Raking these leaves is damaging to your plants, and the results are less than satisfying. What to do? Grab an ordinary broom to sweep the leaves off plants and into the spaces between them. If the leaves are too deep, I like to suck them up with a leaf blower. This breaks the leaves into smaller pieces. I then dump them back on the bed and work them down in between the plants with a broom. This is quite beneficial as the leaves slowly decay, keep roots warm, and provide a place for hibernating insects. This also provides less of a temptation for rodents to hide under leaves, which they often do when the leaves are simply left in a heap. Leaves that fall into the rose garden, the herb garden, or the perennial gardens provide protection from the cold and also help prevent plants from heaving out of the soil when the ground freezes. This is beautiful! Naked soil is not.

I scandalized a neighbor one time who was hard at work raking leaves to the curb to be picked up by our town. I said I was mowing over ours and leaving them in place. I asked if I might please take his leaves. He was bemused, but I was so happy to have more leaves!

You can also add leaves to your compost bin. Dropped leaves are the brown material needed to balance the green-brown ratio in the compost bin. The green material consists of garden debris such as annuals you have pulled out of the garden No bin? Gather the leaves into plastic bags.... pulverized leaves work best. Close those bags and toss them in a corner of your garden. By spring you will have the most incredible organic mulch.

Starting a new garden? Use the leaves to build the soil in a “lasagna garden.” Simply lay down cardboard or thick layers of newspaper, moisten it, and spread the fragmented leaves on top. No digging, no rototilling. The soil structure will be improved. You may notice earthworms in the spring, but millions of microorganisms will benefit from the leaves as well. This improves its ability to hold water and makes great soil!
I like to collect and press leaves for wreath and card making. (Do you remember putting leaves between pieces of wax paper and pressing with a warm iron ?) Collecting leaves makes you really look at them—many will be broken and have insect holes. Look for “perfect leaves.” They really are a thing of beauty.


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