Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
November, 2008
Regional Report

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These bits of gold are just that -- gold for the garden in the form of mulch.

Golden Leaves for the Garden

Now that we've had a few frosts and even a few hard freezes, the leaves are coming down in piles. So, how can you make use of these little bits of gold instead of simply letting them annoy you?

Leaves are truly gold for the garden if you simply think ahead. Let me reveal a secret. Leaves don't have to leave your yard and garden. I'm giving you permission to leave them in your beds. This should take a small load off your mind and get you started on recycling your leaves. Think about the woods. Nature drops her leaves and they stay there on the forest floor to decompose and add to the forest litter. You can do the same thing. Best of all, these decaying leaves provide your plants with a constant supply of nutrients.

Shred Leaves for Beds
If it bothers you to have all those leaves sitting in your beds, another solution is to rake them out on the lawn, run over them with the lawnmower, and blow them back in the beds. This works well in perennial beds in which whole leaves can actually cover up the perennials. Shredding them makes fine-textured mulch that will break down further through the winter.

Leaf Shredder
The best investment I've ever made is a leaf shredder to pull behind the mower. It sucks up leaves, shreds them, and blows them into a trailer. Then we pull the trailer to wherever we want the leaves and dump them. We actually stockpile leaves in our beds for use in the gardens the following spring.

Clear Leaves from Lawn
Which brings up the problem of leaves on the lawn. This is the one place where leaving them to lie over the winter is not a good idea. They tend to smother the grass and make winter problems worse. So, what do you do? Again, get out that lawnmower and start shredding. Run over them over and over again, cutting them into very small pieces that simply filter away into the grass. Of course, if you have too many, you may have to pick up some of them and use them in beds.

Make a Permanent Leaf Pile
Think about starting a perennial leaf pile. Rake your leaves onto a tarp and haul them back to a corner where you can dump them. After a couple of years, under the pile you will find lovely leaf mold that is wonderful mulch, addition to potted plants indoors and out, or even seed starting. The British have done this for years, and in their garden books, leaf mold is a prime feature.

Using your mower to shred leaves will mean sharpening the blade more often, but it's a small price to pay for excellent organic mulch. We actually keep an extra set of blades we use only for leaf shredding.

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