Using Fallen Leaves For Mulch

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By David Wall, Mount Pleasant Master Gardener

Well, leaves have started falling in great abundance. Unfortunately, they pile up on the ground, leading wives to gently (?) suggest they be removed. So, what are we to do?

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Fall leaves

A solid or near solid ground covering of dead leaves blocks both water and air from penetrating the ground. Trapping too much moisture sets up the area for present and future rot and fungal diseases. Yes, the leaves must go, but what to do with them? Leaving them on the ground for even a short time will weaken a lawn by depriving it of light.

I’d personally like to see a strong wind blow them into the street where the city could remove them, but that never seems to happen. Growing up in the 1950s, we piled and burned them along the street curb, but current laws plus any burn ban means prevent this from happening!

The most practical solution is to finely shred the leaves with your mulching lawnmower and leave them to fertilize the yard. Dead leaves have 70-80% of the nutrients next season’s plants initially need. Even when shredding, never allow a 2–3-inch leaf cover over the lawn, as this will create the same problems caused by doing nothing! Mulching saves money, which is great, but it doesn’t help the garden.

The most practical solution there is to finely chop/shred the leaves using a shredder machine or mulching lawnmower, and transfer the mulch to the garden to save you the expense of purchasing mulch but also enrich garden soil, lock in moisture and protect your plants from winter’s fluctuating temperatures. Again, unless you plan to immediately till the leaves into the soil, never allow a 2-3’ layer of mulch to cover the soil.

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Author: Faith Huffman

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