Leafy bits

I'm working on so many projects right now that sometimes I can't remember which one is which, but I took a bit of time off this weekend to help Mr. Much More Patient with some leaf removal. It's the least I can do seeing as how I have a very specific way in which I like the leaves to be handled and he's nice enough to appease me.

It's taken me awhile to come around to it, but I'm now firmly in the camp of those have an unnatural love of leave mold. And you know, it only makes sense. Anyone who has ever dug into the dirt on the forest floor knows that it is rich, black, loamy goodness and that's partly because there are no anal suburbanites in there raking (check that, blowing) all of the leaves out. And all those leaves break down into really good stuff.

Of course whole leaves are no good on our lawns and gardens because they tend to form a mat that chokes out anything living below it. Good for forests (fights weeds), bad for gardens (kills your precious plants/grass).

Leaf mold, which is just decomposed leaves, is great for all kinds of things, not the least of which is a natural, good-for-the-soil mulch. Like everything, leaves break down much quicker if they are smaller. Which is exactly why my husband spent the better part of the weekend walking back and forth on our lawn.

I stuck my hand in the wheelbarrow of leaf bits to show you the rough size we chop them up to. This pile of brown bits will turn into a lovely soil amendment or mulch with time.

The system we have figured out is that you take the mulching mower we have (a walk-behind model) and chop up the leaves once and let them lay on the ground. Then you engage the bagging feature and mow over them one more time, which cuts them up nice and small and bags them for you. With a lot of leaves on the ground, I bet he only gets about 75 feet before the bag is full, so my job is to continually dump the wheelbarrow as it fills with leaves dumped from the mower bag.

Lots of the leaf pieces go in the compost bin, but even with the relatively small amount we added I'm sure our brown-to-green ratio is heavy on the browns. I also make a pile next to the compost bin. I can add these to the compost in spring or summer when I have a lot of greens or, more likely, I can use them as mulch on the garden beds next spring or summer. They won't be completely decomposed by then, but they don't tend to tie up the nitrogen in your soil as much as some wood mulches can. And if all that doesn't convince you, let me tell you that since my mom starting mulching with chopped up leaves about four years ago her mostly clay soil has become pretty amazing.

So that's one thing I learned from my mom. Here's another:

For the past several years I've been heeling in all the plants I didn't get around to planting for whatever reason, caging them with chicken wire to protect them from critters and then filling the wire up with chopped leaves for some additional protection from the elements. Usually I do this in an out-of-the-way corner of the garden or on the edge of the woods. This year my mom asked why I didn't do it in the raised veggie garden. After all, it's already caged in and therefore protected from critters, it's much easier to dig into because the dirt is nice and soft, and I unearth my plants well before it's veggie planting time. Chalk one up for mom. Not sure why I didn't think of that.

Can you see the plants sticking up out of the leaves? They are all snug in their (veggie) bed for the winter. I also filled up the auxiliary raised bed in the background with leaf bits because that dirt needed some help and I figured they can break down just as well in there for the winter.

Anyway, the handful of plants I had sitting around (maybe eight or so), got plunked in the dirt in the veggie garden and I covered those too with a healthy amount of chopped up leaves. Next spring I'll just work the leaves into the soil. Win. Win.


  1. Great idea! None of our trees are mature enough to produce many leaves. I have been putting tons of cutback from perennials in the compost, so I am hoping all of the kitchen scraps I put in over the winter will balance it out come spring. I did harvest some compost for my veggie bed last weekend! Score!!

  2. We blow and rake the leaves into a long pile on our driveway about 4-5 ft. wide and almost the length of the drive. Then Mark goes up and down with the mulching mower chopping them up. I follow behind and rake them in from the edge so they get chopped about three times or so. Size is similar to yours. Then we scoop them into sturdy contractor's garbage bags. We currently have 18 bags which I will use for mulch next year or mix with Olbrich mulch. Also raked up two bags of white pine needles from my neighbor's yard to use for my pine needle path next spring.

  3. We started a leaf mold pile last year to use as a soil additive. We have a big yard and live in the woods (lots and lots of leaves from fall to spring) so we use a sweeper on our riding lawn mower. Then we put the leaves in a trash can and stick a weedwacker inside.


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