Uses for fallen leaves

I live in the woods. My house is on a 2-acre clearing smack dab in the center of the woods. When your house is surrounded by acres of trees you have a lot of fallen leaves to pick up every year! 

Fallen leaves in yard being cleaned up for use in garden

At first you just rake them into the woods or burn them or even suck them all up with a lawn vacuum type thing and dump them somewhere deep in the woods where they can't blow back out. After a while though you come up with ways to use said leaves, because leaves could be very useful for a gardener!

There is one school of thought that leaves and dead plants should be left where they fall as certain insects will hide in them over winter and the leaves help them to survive. Unfortunately many common garden pests are on that list and allowing them a space to survive over winter is making more pest problems for yourself next year!

I'm pretty sure that's how my earwig problem got so bad the last 2 years! 

I also didn't till for 2 years because of a new fence, so that certainly didn't help. Tilling does help break up their little buggy homes and disrupts the lifecycle of many garden pests so I can't blame my earwig problem on 1 thing...but I'm sure the 2 changes worked together to make the garden particularly buggy this year. That won't happen again!

30 years gardening and still learning and trying different things. About the leaves though...

Uses for fallen leaves in the yard and garden

If you have a normal sized yard you should find enough uses for the leaves that they all get used up! If you have extra, you could put some aside in a heavy duty garbage bag for use in your first pit. Dried leaves can help a fire catch quite easily and are better than using an accelerant. Just make sure they're completely dry when bagging them up, because moisture can make them too soggy to burn quickly. 

Picking up chopped dried leaves for use in garden

Preparing and using piles of fallen leaves Autumn

You'll want to work with your leaves on a dry day, preferably after a few dry days! This will make them more brittle and easier to shred, plus lighter to rake. If you're going to use a shredder or lawnmower to shred them it's much easier work if they're dry...and the pieces come through more consistently in size. 

Add fallen leaves to the compost pile

Of course you can add leaves to your compost pile, however it will very quickly get overwhelmed if you try to add the whole yards worth! You still have to stick to the right combination of browns vs greens. 

Not only is compost a nutrient rich soil amendment but it’s also a great soil enhancer. It can loosen up hard clay soil and it’ll allow sandy soil to retain more water. Compost can be used as a replacement for fertilizers and will also improve pH balance and soil fertility. And all of this means that you will have healthier plants and a nicer looking garden.

How to mulch with fallen leaves

You could also chop them up and use them as mulch in the garden. After you clean your garden up for the year you can cover it with a layer of leaves to help insulate it through the winter. If you have a plant that needs a particularly deep amount of mulch make a small circle with some short fencing and place around the plant, then fill with leaves before the first frost!

Always shred leaves before using them as mulch! Whole leaves will trap water between them and mat down into a solid mass. This will smother plant roots! To allow moisture and air to get through shred the leaves first to make the pieces smaller. 

Or you could chop them up then till them into your garden. Just run them over with a law mower a few times then rake up and spread across the garden before tilling. Mixing shredded leaf bits into the garden soil like this can help make it lighter and aerate it a bit. This helps lighten heavy soils while increasing the moisture retention of drier soils.

Use fallen leaves to make leaf mold

You can also use them to make leaf mold. If you spend any time at all in the woods you know the forest floor is covered with a thin layer of really dark earth. This is from the breakdown of fallen leaves and helps improve the structure of soil while supporting plant growth. 

You can replicate this in piles to use in your garden. I have the exact method to make leaf mold in another article, but it's pretty much just pile them up, spray with water, cover with a tarp and wait! Use next year.

Wheelbarrow full of chopped fallen leaves for garden use

Use leaves to mulch your lawn

I'm not sure mulch is the right word here! What I like to do is pile up some leaves and run the lawnmower over them a few times, then spread them out over the lawn. Chopping them up helps the leaves break more quickly and that process adds nutrients to the soil. Plus whole leaves can easily blow away and the tiny pieces tend to stay exactly where you put them!

In fact, I like to leave the collection bags off the mower for the final 2-3 grass cuttings of the year. The chopped grass along with any dried leaves that get caught up and chopped falls onto the lawn breaks down over winter and helps fertilize for next growing season. 

Give fallen leaves to the chickens

I put some in the run on my chicken coop to give the chicken something to do. They like digging through the leaves and hunting for bugs. You can also use them as coop litter. It works pretty well though they don't break down very quickly inside the coop. Related reading: Using fall leaves in the chicken run.

Still have more leaves?

If you've done all of these things and still have a lot of fallen leaves then I suggest you see if you know anyone that might need them for their garden! Ask around (post of FB local garden groups etc) if anyone else needs them. People with garden shares or an allotment will probably be able to use them as they most likely don't have their own yard. 

You could also check with a local community garden, or just make a giant leaf mold pile. It'll start to shrink almost immediately so your giant leaf mold pile won't stay that large for long! 

If all else fails, burn them! Nothing says fall more than the smell of burning leaves! Stay safe and use a burn cage or bin if you have one.

Related reading: Want to learn more about growing food in containers? Check out all my 10 Ways to Attract bees to your Garden!


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