Here’s my secret…
We have approximately fifty trees in our yard and too many to count in woods immediately behind our house. That’s a lot of leaves, folks – or as I like to call them, free organic matter! Of course, we don’t clean up the leaves that fall in the woods. That would be crazy. There, we let nature take its course. The leaves fall, decompose and leave a rich organic matter behind. Nature is brilliant, isn’t it?
Well, if it’s good enough for nature, it’s good enough for me! For many years, we’ve used a lawnmower with a bag attachment to chop and collect the leaves. Then, we dump the leaves on exhausted flower beds and use them as mulch around trees and shrubs.
Until this year, I never used leaves as mulch in my vegetable garden. Though, last year, I did spread a few bales of old straw around the garden with excellent results. (Read about that here.) The decrease in weeds was dramatic. If it works with straw, why not leaves? We have to pick them up anyway. Why not put them to use in the vegetable garden? So, when the leaves started dropping last fall, we mowed, chopped, and dumped the bagged leaves on the garden. By the end of “raking” season, the garden was covered with a nice 8-10” blanket of chopped leaves.
Not only do decomposing leaves provide nutrients and organic matter, but they also encourage worms and beneficial microorganisms to make a home, which adds to the soil quality. Before I started using leaves as mulch, the red Carolina clay was my enemy. It’s taken several years and many layers of leaves to tame it, but it was worth the trouble.
Advantages of using chopped leaves as mulch:
- Significant decrease in weeds
- Weeds that do dare to pop up are super easy to pull
- Improves soil structure
- Leaves create rich organic matter as they decompose
- Increase in worms and beneficial critters that add nutrients to the soil
- Moisture retention – less watering
- Walking in the garden after a rain/watering is a mud-free experience
Please note: Use chopped or shredded leaves. They will break down faster. Whole leaves can form a mat and prevent water from getting to the roots of your plants. Also, don’t bury your plants in leaves. Give them a little breathing room, especially when they are young.
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