Cool Uses For Fall Leaves

The first step is to rake up those leaves. Or, if you have a big yard, a leaf blower is an easy solution. Today, there are lightweight and low-noise leaf blowers that do the job quickly (without breaking your back!).

• Spread them as protective mulch. Leaves make a good insulating cover for overwintering tender perennials or root crops stored in the ground. Leaf cover allows fall-planted garlic to root without sprouting, and prevents shallow-rooted strawberries from heaving during winter’s freeze-thaw cycles.

• Use them as a weed barrier for spring plantings. Chopped or left whole, leaves make excellent mulch for vegetable crops, blueberries (and other berries), and ornamental shrubs. They not only suppress weeds and help retain soil moisture, but because they contain no weed seeds themselves, they won’t encourage the spread of new weeds.

• Make compost for a valuable soil amendment. Carbon-rich leaves pair well with summer’s nitrogen-rich grass clippings. Layer three or four inches of old leaves with an inch of fresh grass clippings or other green leafy yard waste.

• Make leaf mold. Leaf mold is a special kind of all-leaf compost much beloved by English gardeners. It simply involves collecting and storing leaves, shredded or not, in plastic bags or wire bins. Keep the leaves moist, and let the fungi take over. After two or three years, the leaves will have disintegrated into a dark, sweet-smelling, soil conditioner, high in essential minerals. It’s exceptional. See our video on how to make leaf mold.

• Move back over the leaves a few times. The easiest solution. The chopped leaves will break down quickly in spring and add valuable organic matter and mineral nutrients to the lawn. Or, you could use them as mulch in your perennial garden.

• Store root vegetables. If you have a cool, humid spot, you can store carrots, beets, and other root vegetables between layers of crisp, freshly fallen leaves. Sprinkle each layer of leaves with water (don’t let them get soggy). If you don’t grow your own vegetables, visit a farmers’ market and try to find a vendor who will sell you half a bushel or more of your favorite root crops.

• There’s no end to crafts that use fall leaves. A Fall favorite: preserving the rich fall colors by “glycerinizing” a few stems of the most colorful maples.