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Marie Iannotti

What to Do with Fall Leaves

By October 3, 2011

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Today I am mourning the loss of a very old silver maple that used to tower over my driveway. It's been falling apart, piece by piece, for years now, but the last storm brought down branches large enough to tell us it was time to say good-bye. The final thud of the fallen trunk is a resoundingly sad sound.

I'm especially upset that I didn't even get one last fall dump of leaves, to use in my garden. There are so many uses for fall leaves and some don't even require the effort of raking them. I am dumbfounded by people who rake their leaves to the curb for pick up and then pay good money for fertilizer in the spring. Several studies have shown that simply mowing over them when you mow your lawn will improve the health and thickness of your grass. If you have a bagger, you can mow and collect them, to use as mulch in your garden beds. Slightly damp leaves chop easier and will remain in place better.

If you have so many leaves that mowing is not a great option, you can rake them up and add them to your compost. Or even better, pile them up by themselves and let them turn into leave mold. It only takes about a year to get the crumbliest, earthiest smelling soil conditioner you've ever seen. Our Guide to Organic Gardening, Colleen Vanderlinden, can get you started on making and using leaf mold.

Photo: Marie Iannotti


October 3, 2011 at 5:33 pm
(1) dot says:

i can see by your typos that this has upset you. i have two silver maples that are only 6 or 7 years young, and one lost half its leaves early on. i hope it was the wind. it sits in a wind tunnel in our yard. in ne ohio, we had tons of leaves and access to old hay. we had the most beautiful dark brown garden dirt. its hard to get leaves down here inse ohio, no way to gather from nearby communities, but we are working on that this year. leaves are the best fertilizer, next, hay i hope you replant a tree to take the old ones place.

October 3, 2011 at 5:41 pm
(2) Phil says:

I can see by your typos that you need some help as well.

October 3, 2011 at 8:37 pm
(3) dot says:

im no typist,sorry!

October 3, 2011 at 7:23 pm
(4) gardening says:

Dot, were you rushing to help me out and typing on one of those tiny phone keyboards? ;-) I appreciate your note. I did have some typos in there and it probably was because I was writing this as I watched my tree come down. I hope yours are OK.

I haven’t decided what to put in place of mine. It’s so close to the driveway, a tree never should have been planted there.

Phil, you have a very keen eye.

October 3, 2011 at 7:39 pm
(5) Lynn says:

It’s upsetting to lose a big tree. It takes years to replace them, and they add such beauty and shade to a property. I’m sorry for your loss.

We save leaves to mix with grass clippings in the summer for quick compost. In the summer, it seems like there are not enough ‘browns’ to add to the mix to balance the ‘greens.’ So, keeping a few big bags of dried leaves comes in handy then.

Also, the loose leaves make a good wind screen for the lavender bed. We pile them on, then later after Christmas, top them with cut branches from our Christmas tree. It protects the plants from damage.

October 4, 2011 at 2:40 pm
(6) gardening says:

Evergreen branches are my 2nd favorite mulch. Isn’t it great how the free stuff is also good for the garden!

October 8, 2011 at 8:23 am
(7) Lauren Vicker says:

I have been piling the leaves high on one of my garden beds and it’s so much more satisfying than bagging the leaves and sending them to the landfill, as we have to do in our town. I’ve also used mulched leaves on the paths of the garden and they compost down to make a nice soft path to walk on.
However, I’ve noticed snails have been more of a problem and I’m wondering if the damp leaves are creating a happier environment for them? We have so many leaves that bagging them all would be a huge task.

October 23, 2011 at 6:21 am
(8) Mizme says:

I feel your pain!!! We lost 30 trees in the April tornado in Birmingham. Not only is our 2 acre lot almost bare but no leaves for our vegetable garden which should be outstanding in full sun!! any tree suggestions for me?

October 31, 2011 at 6:02 pm
(9) gardening says:

30 trees! Now that’s painful. I’m having the same problem with a lack of leaves. I hate seeing all the piles that are raked to the side of the road for pick up.

I try to replace my trees with varieties that have long life spans, like oaks. But I did plant a cluster of river birches to get some quick shade where I needed it.

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