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Save Time This Fall: Leave Your Leaves

Three ways to use leaves to benefit your trees and shrubs.

Leaves are a fantastic source of organic material to put around your trees and shrubs. Instead of bagging them up and removing them from your yard, there are several ways you can use them to your benefit. You can rake them into your beds to use as mulch, you can compost them into leaf mold, or you can work with a lawn care specialist to integrate them into your grassy areas.

Leaves as mulch

Leaves make great mulch around your trees and shrubs because they add nutrients to the soil and protect the roots from harsh winter weather. Leaves are also part of the tree’s natural cycle, and as such, they are free and abundantly available.

Turning leaves into mulch requires just a few simple steps:

  1. Shred the leaves with a regular lawn mower or mulching mower. This can help prevent them from blowing away. If the leaves are already wet or you’re not worried about them blowing away, you can skip this step.
  2. Rake the leaf mulch into the beds under your trees and shrubs. To prevent any potential rot or disease, be sure that the leaves do not cover the trunk.
  3. If you find the look of leaves unappealing, especially as they start to turn brown, after you rake them into your mulch beds, you can cover them in pine straw or triple-shred mulch. Doing this has the double benefit of adding nutrients to the soil and providing a consistent, aesthetically pleasing look.

Leaves as compost

Leaf mold, or compost, requires a few extra steps, but turns leaves into a conditioner that improves soil structure and helps it retain water.

To turn leaves into leaf mold, follow these simple steps:

  1. Shred the leaves with a regular lawn mower or mulching mower. The shredding helps the leaves decompose more quickly. If you’re not in a hurry for them to break down, you can skip this step.
  2. Pile the leaves into a compositing bin or any suitable container that will keep them at least a few feet deep and closely compacted. If the leaves are spread too thinly, they will dry out instead of forming leaf mold. To prevent any potential rot or disease, be sure that the leaves do not cover the trunk.
  3. Soak the leaves to encourage them to break down, then cover them with a tarp to maintain the moisture level.
  4. Turn the leaves every month or so to be sure that they are consistently decomposing.
  5. When you start to see rich, earthy material, the compost is ready to be added back into your soil. This transformation from leaves to leaf mold can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years, depending on how carefully you tend the leaves.

Leaves on your lawn

It’s also possible to let leaves stay on your grass as long as you shred them like you would for mulch or composting. In this case, be sure to not skip this first step. A thick, matted layer of leaves will not smother your grass like commonly thought, but it can become a refuge for harmful insects and diseases. You should then aerate your yard.

After the leaves are shredded and your yard is aerated, you can rake the leaf mulch into the holes, but it’s important to consult a professional to ensure this is done correctly. A thin layer of the mulch can stay on top of the grass, but too much mulch can cause the thatch to build up too thickly.

What is thatch?

Thatch is the layer of decomposing plant material between the soil and the green blades of your grass. It can include dead stems, leaves, and roots. A little bit of thatch can help high trafficked lawns be more resilient, but too much can cause it to be hydrophobic. Be mindful of how much thatch there already is before adding a layer of leaf mulch.

Whichever method you pick to use your leaves this Fall, skip the fertilizer, the leaf blowers, and the yard waste bags. Do yourself (and your trees) a favor and leave the leaves.

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