Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
November, 2009
Regional Report

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This tree's mulched circle is snuggled in for the winter with shredded leaves.

What Am I Going to Do With All Those Leaves?

It's that time. What are you going to do with all those leaves? Let me give you some suggestions! I'm always on my soapbox about adding organic matter to the soil. Leaves are a perfect organic amendment. Shred your leaves by running them over with the mower and then blow them into your garden beds.

Vegetable Garden
In the vegetable garden, you can simply leave them on as mulch that will begin to break down over winter. In spring, pull them back to plant your seeds and then when the plants are up, pull the mulch back around them. Or, they can be turned under to break down over the winter and make a beautiful seedbed that's ready to go next spring.

Leaves are wonderful insulators. You can place bags of them directly over carrots and parsnips left in the garden; they'll prevent the soil from freezing and you'll be harvesting into January. I cover my fall lettuce with leaves toward the end of November when it stops growing, and then in spring when I pull back the leaves, the lettuce is ready to start growing very early.

Use shredded leaves as a nice blanket of mulch for perennials. Putting organic mulch over the plants for winter will keep the soil from freezing and thawing which can be deadly on perennial roots. The objective is not to keep them from freezing. The soil will freeze. This is okay -- perennials are designed to withstand freezing temperatures. But the key with mulch is to keep the soil frozen so it won't thaw until spring. Roots that go through freeze-thaw cycles frequently end up with their roots desiccated and eventually dead.

As wonderful as leaves are, they shouldn't be left matted on the lawn. This will invite snow mold and rodent damage and all manner of not-so-nice results on the grass.

Trees and Shrubs
So, rake or blow them into you shrub and tree beds. It's not even necessary to shred them. Think about the woods and what nature does with leaves. They fall beneath the tree, make a delightful mulch, decay, and make nice healthy soil. We can do the same for our trees and shrubs.

Research shows that trees that are mulched with about 3 to 4 inches of organic mulch actually have stronger root systems and healthier tissue than trees without mulch. If you have turf right up to your tree trunks, take this opportunity to make new mulch beds by piling 6 inches of leaves in a circle the width of the tree's drip line. Your trees will thank you for it. Next spring you can either add more leaves or shredded bark to your new tree circle.

Don't Burn!
If you must, move your leaves to the road for transport to the composting facility if your city or village provides this. Most importantly, don't be tempted to burn them. It's a huge waste of a good resource and results in terrible pollution.

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