By midwinter, most of the leaves from deciduous trees will have fallen to the ground. These leaves do not only drift across your garden making beautiful, natural patterns, they are also a valuable commodity – a boon that you can make use of to help grow other plants next year. They can be a key component in the success of a sustainable, organic garden. Here are some ways to make use of the fallen leaves in your garden:
Let Them Lie Where They Fall
On the undisturbed floor of a woodland or forest, the leaves that fall to the ground help to build up a rich humus that enriches the soil and feeds the fungal and bacterial ecosystem below the ground. Often, leaves that fall in your garden can simply be left where they fall and allowed to break down naturally to return nutrients and complete the natural cycles. On an area of lawn, mowing over fallen leaves can help to allow the leaves to be broken down more easily to provide their nutrients to the grass, keeping the lawn healthy.
Use as a Mulch Around Shrubs & Trees
Sometimes, leaves will fall on paths or patios, or other places where they will do less good. These leaves can be gathered up and used as a blanketing mulch to build humus, add nutrients and reduce competition from weeds around trees and shrubs. Such a mulch can also help to protect shallow roots from frost in cold climates, or to reduce water loss from the soil.
Add Them To Your Compost Heap
Leaves can also be gathered up and placed on your compost heap. Fallen leaves from deciduous trees and shrubs are a valuable carbon-rich material for your compost, and can be layered up with grass clippings and other nitrogen-rich, 'green' materials to create a nutrient-packed, friable mix to enrich the soil in all your growing areas.
Make Leaf Mould
Making leaf mould is another great way to close the loop in an organic, permaculture garden. Leaf mould is one of the best mulches or soil conditioners around and the good news is that anyone can make it. The process of making leaf mould is similar to making compost, but involves leaving the leaves to decompose separate from other compostable materials.
You can easily just make a mesh bin or fenced off area in which to store your leaves as they rot. Allow for plenty of ventilation in the structure so the leaves do not get slimy and air is able to circulate. It is also best to create some sort of lift-able cover for your leaf pile so it does not become too wet. (Also, in very dry weather, it is best to sprinkle your leaves with a little water to make sure that the decomposition can continue.)
After a year, the leaves in your leaf bin/ containment area should have broken down enough to be used as a mulch. If you leave leaves to decompose for a further year, the leaves will have broken down into a lovely, crumbly soil conditioner which will help keep soil and plants healthy.