The Value of Leaves

Fallen Leaves
Photo: Miguel M. Alameida via flickr.com

I've got a confession to make: I hate leaf blowers. Absolutely detest the things. If you have one in the garden shed, sorry for my candour, but I see them as just another pointless, noisy, energy guzzling bit of gear that is at least as counter productive as it is useful.

At this time of the year, when fallen leaves “litter” the ground, blowers seem to be going full tilt every weekend to the point that I can't help but ask, whatever happened to the lawn rake and the broom. They're cheap to buy, free to run and quiet – no need for earmuffs or unleaded petrol when you use a rake!

Blowers are counter productive because they treat what should be regarded as a useful resource, as a problem. As far as I'm concerned, the autumn leaves of deciduous trees are a precious source of organic matter, so it seems more than a bit silly to send them flying down the driveway and into the street with a blast of petrol driven air. Instead, we should be collecting leaves in earnest, and using them to repair, and enhance our garden soils.

The simplest way to use leaves is simply to rake them into a pile and spread them on garden beds as mulch. You'll find that most leaves rot down beautifully over winter to form a rich, dark humus, the building block of healthy soil. Alternatively, you can pile the leaves onto your compost heap, along with a little blood and bone to kick start the decomposition process.

For the largest and coarsest leaves, don't bother pulling out the mower or shredder – make leaf mould. Unlike composting, leaf mould is made largely through fungal action so there's no need to turn or add an activator, Just throw the leaves into a broad pile, wet them down, keep them moist through winter and within six months or so you'll have a beautiful velvety humus that's perfect as a mulch below deciduous fruit trees.

If you have a compact garden with a single deciduous tree, take heart. You can still make leaf mould. Pile the leaves into black bin liners, wet them down, punch some holes in the base, lightly twist the top, and put the bags in an out of the way corner to rot down.

And please, consider ditching the leaf blower. I find raking to be quite a meditative autumn activity, and if you give it a try, you might end up feeling the same.

 

By: Justin Russell

First published: May 2012

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