Advice from Farmer Dan – Fall Leaves

Posted on November 20, 2020 by Alicia Alferman

Did you know that it’s unnecessary, and in many ways detrimental to rake or blow your fall leaves? It can be overwhelming when the trees drop literal tons of these things everywhere all at once, but take a second to read this and learn all the whys and hows to leaving your leaves where they should be left. I hope one of these options sounds interesting to you, and saves you the effort of bagging your leaves to send them away.

1. Leaves are AMAZING food for your lawn and garden. Nature is ready to munch all your leaves up. Think about it, if leaves didn’t break down naturally, we’d be buried under 20 ft. of them by now. Each year they drop, and disappear before spring. If you mound leaves under your bushes and trees, and around your perennials, (I recommend between 2-6” deep), they will help control most weeds, keep the roots of your plants warm through the winter, and feed worms and soil microbes who, in turn, aggregate the leaves into your soil. Once the leaves have been taken underground by worms and microbes, they help your soil hold the water and nutrients that keep your plants thriving. On your lawn it is even easier. If you have a light covering of leaves, say 1” or less, just leave them there. The grass will grow up around them, and the microbes and worms will munch them down. If they are deeper, and they are threatening to kill the grass, just run your mower over them to chop them up a bit, and leave them where they are.

2. Leaves are important habitat for a myriad of wildlife. Butterfly, moth and other insect eggs and cocoons are often hiding in fall leaves. When you use your leaf blower or rake to bag the leaves and send them away in bags to the dump, you are likely killing hundreds or thousands of amazing creatures like luna moths and swallowtail butterflies. Birds also rely heavily on the insects and seeds protected by fall leaves as a source of forage through the winter. When your back yard is leaf covered, it is the perfect home to hundreds of species of wildlife.

3. Leaves are an excellent compost ingredient. If you have places where wind naturally blows leaves into deep piles that take forever to break down, take heart! Nature has provided you with a very valuable resource for composting. Leaves can be added to vermicomposting systems as a basic food for worms. Leaves can be moved from places where they pile to be used as mulch, which is a form of composting in place. Finally, they can be added at a rate of approximately 3-1 with nitrogen rich ingredients like food scraps, manure or coffee grounds to make hot compost piles. This compost can feed your garden, your lawn, or your house plants. If you plan strategically, and let your law grow a little extra long for fall, when the leaves fall, you can mow them with a bagging mower, and you will have a perfect mix of green and brown to start a lovely hot compost.

4. Leaves, when mixed with other ingredients such as coffee grounds or sawdust can be used as a substrate to grow delicious edible mushrooms. When the mushrooms have fruited, dump the leftover mycelium and digested leaves into your garden for an awesome, fungal soil food.

5. Leaves make a great bedding for backyard chickens and ducks. If you have a chicken run, dump leaves as deep as you want in there, and your chickens will LOVE you for it. They will hunt and peck for bugs and seeds, consume some of the leaves themselves along with any grass or weeds you raked up with them, and when they make their little chicken deposits, their manure will mix with the leaves to make a perfect compost mix which will feed your roses, onions, melons and other hungry plants.

Farmer Dan