What to do with leaves: exploring leafy opportunities

What to do with leaves: exploring leafy opportunities

What to do with leaves? If there are any trees on, or near, your property then you have looked across your leaf-covered front lawn each fall. A great many people round them all up and ship them off to the local dump. However, leaves can be a treasure trove of opportunity.

Protect flowers

One of the more common uses for fall leaves is as a garden bed cover. By piling them on top of your perennial plants you provide the plants with extra protection from the cold of winter. Mimicking what many of these plants would have experienced in nature.

Piles of leaves covering perennial flower beds.
Piling leaves on perennial flower beds protects the flowers from the cold of winter.

Additionally, as they break down, leaves release nutrients that fertilize the soil around your perennials for next spring. Covering your plants in any organic material is a great way to protect them and give them a jump start for next year.

Pile them high

Another way to use leaves to benefit your garden is by making leaf mold. Leaf mold is basically just the broken-down remnants of decaying leaves. However, they have great benefits! Leaf mold can improve water retention, soil critter habitat, or be used as a mulch.

Leaves piled up in a fence hoop to make leaf mulch.
Leaves piled up in a fence to break down into leaf mulch.

Making leaf mold can be as simple as making a pile of foliage in a corner of your yard and leaving it there till spring! It’s that easy. Alternatively, add them to your compost pile as a brown layer!

Cover the ground

Chickens love to scratch at the ground and anything on it. One way to protect the ground is to throw your leaves into the chicken run. The chickens love scratching through the piles! Plus as the chickens scratch, they naturally break up organic matter and help it decompose faster. Additionally, as they poop the nitrogen-rich excrement binds to the carbon in the leaves! Which leads us to…

Cover the poop

Chicken coops are full of poop. Chickens poop while they eat, while they sleep, pretty much any time anywhere. As a result chicken coops have a bad reputation for being smelly dirty places. However, by using leaves as a deep mulch in your coops, as recommended by Joel Salatin and others, then the mulch prevents the place from being smelly! We try to keep a good mulch layer in our coop and rarely notice any smell. When we do we know it is time to change out the mulch layer and get some great compost for the garden at the same time! So put those leaves to work cleaning up your chicken coop too!

Have fun

As is the case with all things, be sure to have some fun along the way.

Our kids having fun jumping in a leaf pile.

Our kids have loved being buried in, jumping in, and being thrown in the leaf piles we have made this year. Even if it were not for the extra benefits we get from the leaves I would consider the effort of raking worth it just to see those smiles.

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