In trying to improve a poor plot of soil I am trying to rehabilitate into a garden I am dumping leaves I rake up on it to break down. I also in the spring will plant a cover crop. Am I wasting my time on the leaves though?
The leaves are a fantastic mulch. It's one of the fastest ways to attract worms to my gardens. When I dig in a the beds that I rake all my fall leaves into I have two or three times as many worms as my other beds. Just don't expect it to be long lasting weed suppression. They break down faster than you expect. The one thing you might keep an eye out for is a shingle effect that causes water to sheet off the top of the leaves without sinking through to the ground. Generally if you have different shaped leaves or chopped the leaves in some fashion (running a lawn mower over the pile is a favorite, bagging lawn mowers collect them at the same time) you avoid this problem entirely.
That's a great example of how different conditions produce different results. I can pile leaves six inches or deeper and leave them alone in a wind sheltered bed and within six months they're almost completely gone. It's probably the same thing that makes keeping organic matter in the soil so hard in a tropical climate. That's why I only have two beds that get leaf mulch. I can't get enough leaves to cover all my beds that thickly once a year, much less the two or three times I'd need to apply it.
posted 3 years ago
Yeah our leaves breakdown fast here. They are not chopped up though but I might turn the soil over this year to make room for the cover crop I am going to grow and to till in the leaves. The spot is just full of grass and weeds.
All mulch is good mulch! All carbon is ultimately good for your soil.
The more leaves the better.
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Agreed! I mulch with leaves through the fall and winter. I don't have a way to shred them. I used to think that meant I couldn't use them except in the compost heap, but I am becoming less and less timid about them.
Just this afternoon (it was crazily warm--55 degrees in Connecticut in January?!?) I re-mulched with leaves in some areas where they had blown away. I have a small city yard but unlike the neighbors I don't do "fall raking", as in collecting and bagging up or composting, any more. People say leaving leaves about will kill your grass, but that has not been my experience. I let them blow around and also rake some more deliberately into particular places where I want them, such as over my garlic patch, the asparagus bed, my hugel which is going into its 2nd spring and shrinking, and my bed of mustard and parsley that refuse to die in the cold. The leaves are mostly oak and ash, plus a lot of other shrub leaves mixed in.
When spring comes, there are places where I'll move the thick leaf mulch aside. I just rake the leaves out of the beds and into the paths in between, where they can compost in place with all my kitchen scraps, wood chips, and other goodies. A bunch will go under my new sheet mulched spots as an additional layer(below the cardboard or above? what do folks think?). And really, there will not be such a big mass of leaves left anyway, because by spring so much of them have broken down into the soil.
I just had a fascinating observation---next to the community garden plus conservation land where I have a half bed this summer, they pile leaves high, oak and pine needles mostly, about 2 to 5 feet (.7 to 1.7m) high hills of leaves.
The top layer was dry, but just below that it was wet about six inches, then below that dry again!! Even in a pile, the leaves were a perfect water shield. Hm, I thought, a roof material?
But as I dug down more to another foot it was wet again---probably from ground seepage.
I tried a higher (5 foot) pile, and that one was dry wet then dry dry dry down as far as I could reach digging. So I think you could roof with a huge (5 foot/2 m ) layer of dead leaves if wind is not too big a deal. But if water had any way in under it would stay to rot.
This tells me that for various intended functions, different degrees of the same element will work or work counter to the function. It is a question of balance more than it is a question of which element is present
Also, one reason leaves make such effective mulch-compost is that they keep lots of water--and so the ground below may be less moist than if you used, say, gravel--but at the same time the leaves are airtight enough to keep ground moisture from leaving.
And I would assume a huge huge pile of leaves, unstirred, will not break down as quickly as a layer about 6 inches to a foot deep spread out more.
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Around here, fall produces tons of leaves but it also delivers loads of wind. My first adventure in mulching was with leaves. Tons of leaves I collected from the organic roadside cleanup.
A week later and all that mulch went over to visit the neighbors place.
If the leaves are wet, and the mulch layer deep enough then they will stick together and more or less stay where you want them. I think this is why people prefer straw or hay as it tends to stay in place. A mixture would be a a good idea.
I tend to pile leaves on the same somewhat sheltered bed by my house. Usually to a depth of about twelve inches. It's sheltered from the direction of the fall winds and the warm season winds blow them against a wall so they don't roam around. By the time next fall rolls around you start seeing small patches of bare dirt. I mulch all my garden beds and the soil in all the beds is better than the soil in the yard. The soil in this bed is the absolute best of them all. It's nearly black when you dig into it.
Nick Kitchener wrote:They are fantastic if they stay put.
My first adventure in mulching was with leaves. Tons of leaves I collected from the organic roadside cleanup.
A week later and all that mulch went over to visit the neighbors place.
I have experienced this. Grr!
I made use of my neighbor's pine needles, 'sprinkling' the needles on top of the leaves. This anchored the leaves where I wanted them! A solid layer of the needles is not needed, but some interlocking of the ends is necessary.
Shredded leaves seem to stay put in the wind a lot better for me than whole leaves. We tend to hand mow with the bag on the mower in the fall to collect/shred leaves and intermingle grass clippings. Each time we also lower the mower a click since shorter grass going into winter seems to do better come spring (for my climate).
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I have a suggestion for chopping leaves with your riding mower with a bagger.
First, you want to address the areas near a bed or other places where you can't get at with a mower. But before you blow those leafs onto the grass, you want to mow the area where you'll blow your leafs to. That's assuming there is a good accumulation enough that you'll bog down your mower.
Once you've done that my suggestion is to start bagging and never stop when the bags are full. The tubes will stuff up and then what happens is the leafs will be picked up by the blades, which will push them over to where the deck output is. But the bagger tube is stuffed up. So what will happen is that leafs will fall down out on the discharge side. So make a pass over the whole lawn. One mower width wide. Then keep cutting in a race track pattern but overlapping the leafs that that fell out from under the mower on your previous pass. Each time you make another pass you'll keep picking up those that fell the previous pass, but the leafs will get chopped up repeatedly. When you get to the center you may have so many that your mower will slow down, So cut a narrower cut so you don't overheat the engine.
You may have to make two passes chopping leafs, but then you want to unclog the tube and empty the bags. Now you go over the lawn again. The leafs will be chopped up to maybe 1/10 the volume. You'll drive a long time comparatively. If you had a lawn with a lot of big 8 inch diameter Oak leafs that fills the bagger in 50 feet of lawn you won't get much done, you'll spend the day traveling to your composting site. But with this method the leafs will be chopped up to dime size. They'll go up the tube with ease and you'll get 10 times the leafs before your bagger fills.
But also they won't blow away and you won't have 8 inch diameter leafs in the compost pile acting like shingles. The rain will run right thru.
If you have a front engine mower you want to make sure you're not pushing leafs with the tractor, cause they'll build up around the engine and catch fire. But if you have a mower with the mower deck in front, like a zero turn. You can push huge piles of leafs. I've found tho that if you're pushing piles with the blades spinning it's hard on the mower blade belts.
I do it in layers- leaves, topped with soil, more leaves, more soil etc. A few weeks later the leaves in the ground have become soil, the ones on top are nearly decomposed too. My grapevine didn't grow and barely survived in a summer of pure heavy clay soil. I've moved it 50 cm away to the new mulched soil and think it's going to grow a lot better, but I'll have to wait and see.
Bamboo leaves are good to cover garden paths because they won't rot so fast. Even in my tropical place they last one year.
posted 1 year ago
Update: my grapevine died in the new spot, despite being buried with lots of compost. It's a corner of my yard where nothing grows, and it's probably because of strong root competition from a neighbour's tree and a yucca right near it. Even weeds don't grow in that spot. Maybe I'll put a raised bed there, hoping the roots won't grow upwards.
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