What's your least favorite fall chore? Without question, mine is raking leaves. I always start out energetically grasping my rake, but a half hour later when my back is sore and a stiff wind has blown my pile into my neighbor's yard I wonder why I bother. One good reason to rake fall leaves is that they can be turned into beneficial compost and mulch for your garden. And be sure to gather a handful of especially beautiful fall leaves for decorating.
How to make leaf compost from fall leaves
Fall leaves will create leaf mold which is simply a compost made entirely from leaves. One of its great benefits is that it helps keep soil moist, which is especially important for those of us living in areas affected by drought.
Make leaf compost in 4 easy steps:
1. You can simply rake your leaves into a big pile and hope that the wind doesn't blow it away. However, I find that constructing a cylindrical bin out of chicken wire is relatively easy to do and ensures the leaves won't blow away.
Find chicken wire at your local home supply store. Form it into a cylindrical shape by joining the ends together with wire or twine.
2. Rake the leaves and shred. The benefit to shredding the leaves is that the smaller pieces will decompose faster. However, if you don't have a mower to shred them, it isn't absolutely necessary.
3. Put the leaves in the bin. The wetter they are the better. Be careful not to overstuff your bin because you want to allow air to circulate.
4. Wait patiently until the pile has thawed out in the spring. Turn the pile once it has thawed and spread on your vegetable and flower gardens.
How to use leaf mulch
Like leaf compost, leaf mulch helps to maintain soil moisture. It also improves soil fertility, inhibits weed growth, and keeps soil warmer in winter and cooler in summer.
Apply a 2-3 inch layer around trees, shrubs, and perennial gardens. When placing them around a tree don't mound them all at the base of the tree. Instead, bring the mulch all the way out to the tree's drip line to ensure that its whole root system benefits.
Some folks don't care for the look of leaf mulch; they prefer the look of wood chips or bark mulch. Have the best of both worlds by mixing shredded leaves into wood or bark mulch.
Decorate with fall leaves
Before you remove your garden gloves and come inside for hot cider, grab a few handfuls of especially beautiful fall leaves.
- Iron the leaves on low heat between two sheets of wax paper to help them maintain color and shape longer. Then string the leaves to make a garland.
- Now that your flower garden has stopped producing cut flowers, fill your vases with fall leaves.
- Decoupage a glass votive to make a fall luminary.
- Having a fall wedding? Scatter fall leaves along the processional aisle.
- Get the kiddos involved by gluing fall leaves to a sheet of stiff paper and use markers to turn them into outdoor critters. An ovate shaped American Beech or Yellow Birch leaf makes a cute barnyard chick body.