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What to do with all those leaves

Every autumn most gardeners face a deluge of fallen leaves as the deciduous trees shed their garb for another year. Even gardeners who do not have such trees in their landscape are usually blessed with at least some leaves that blow into their yards from adjoining properties. Gathering them up can be time consuming and labour intensive.

I use a lawn mower with a grass catcher attachment to collect them off my lawn. Not only does the catcher collect the leaves, but the mower mulches them so that they are more compact. This method sure beats raking and filling bags with leaves that invariably are caught by a gust of wind just as I go to put them into a bag.

I never worry about flower beds and the vegetable garden having leaves on them as they will simply compost naturally and add their nutrients to the soil, all the while providing mulch to protect perennial plants during the cold winter.

I go over the lawn with the mower several times during this period so that the leaves are not so deep that the mower has trouble picking them up. At this time of year there is very little grass growth, and by setting the mower blade on the highest setting, I hardly get grass clippings mixed in with the mulched leaves.

What do I do with all these leaves besides hauling them to the town composting site? I hate to dispose of good, organic material from my yard so I use my collected leaves in several different ways.

Insulation

I use some of the leaves to protect tender plants during the winter. I bag these until it is time to use them, which is usually just before the first snowfall. I cover my hydrangea, my rose bushes and my oriental lilies with dry leaves. I put a tarp on top of the dry leaves over the lily bed to keep the leaves dry, ensuring air can get in around the outside of the tarp to prevent moisture buildup. I place Styrofoam cones over the leaf-covered roses and use rectangular pieces of foam to form a box around the hydrangeas in which to put the leaves — with a Styrofoam lid on top to keep the leaves dry.

Mulch

I use some of the leaves to mulch around perennials, both those whose tops I cut off and those whose tops are left on for the winter. This gives the plants a bit more protection — particularly those plants that are rated Zone 3 and 4 and which may succumb to our harsh Zone 2 winter. I often scatter some of the leaves in among the raspberry canes as well.

Compost

I save several bags of leaves and store them over the winter to have on hand to use as the brown material in my compost bin the following summer. I make sure the bags are kept where deer cannot get to them — one year the deer tore the bags open and ate most of the leaves during the winter! Any leaves that I have left over are scattered onto the vegetable garden before I have it tilled. The leaves are then worked into the soil. Since they are not decayed and will decompose over a period of time, I often scatter a bit of high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer onto the garden to replace the nitrogen the decomposition process will take from the soil.

Fun

I find a use for all of my leaves and maybe, like me, you can manage to have fun with them. I fondly remember when our children were small I used to take them out to “help” me rake the leaves; rather than help they would jump into the piles and I would hasten to bury them alive many times over. The evening would pass and not much of the lawn got cleared of leaves but we sure did have a lot of fun! So, don’t grumble about your leaves; have fun with them and also take time to enjoy their beautiful colours. Leaves are beautiful things!

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