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Leaves---Good Mulch?  RSS feed

 
Bart Wallace
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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?
 
Casie Becker
gardener
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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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.
 
Todd Parr
pollinator
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Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Like Casie said, chop them up somehow.  I put whole leaves in the ground in one of my gardens and years later they hadn't broken down at all.  Shredded leaves are great though.
 
Casie Becker
gardener
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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forest garden urban
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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.
 
Bart Wallace
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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.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Don't forget to leave some leaves undisturbed!



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Marco Banks
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All mulch is good mulch!  All carbon is ultimately good for your soil.

The more leaves the better.
 
Kris Mendoza
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Location: New England USA, Zone 7a
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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.

 
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