Soil Improvement and/or preparation

Collect Gold for your Garden

Here in Virginia the leaves and pine needles are falling and temperatures are perfect for collection of what every gardener in the know — knows to be a gold mine for their garden: leaves and/or pine needles.

A Little Effort with a Big Payoff

Now is the time with a little looking and a little effort you’ll be able to collect an abundance of organic material that will turn to organic matter in your soil and feed your plants next year.

Driving Factor in Soil Restoration

Organic matter is the driving factor in the restoration of your soil from year to year.  It replenishes what you have used. The organic material (called organic matter after it is decayed) you put in your garden now is like a deposit in a savings account that you will draw from next growing season when it is needed.

No matter how you’ve improved your soil in the past, you must continue the practice of adding organic material or eventually all your improvements will be reversed.

The breakdown of organic material to make organic matter is a slow process.  The original material decomposes to about 10% of its original mass.  So for every 100 pounds of material you get about 10 pounds of organic matter. But even in these small amounts, it is life for your soil.  Miraculously, the beneficial effects come long before the level of organic matter in the soil rises.

Too Much O.M? (Organic Matter)

And in case you are concerned about getting too much O.M. in your soil as one of my readers was, you need not be.  As almost every long-time gardener will tell you  — the problem is more likely to be not being able to get enough!

If you are one of the lucky ones that has access to tons of organic material for your garden, you still need not worry about having too much O.M. as a result.  And as long as you keep your soil covered with mulch so that the O.M. doesn’t oxidize away, it will be there at a time it is needed. Like in the savings account mentioned above.

In order to keep unwanted harmful chemicals from ending up in your soil

If you collect material from other folks, try to make sure their trees (thus the leaves or needles) have not been sprayed with harmful chemicals.

To Compost or Not?

It’s a matter of preference.  If you compost — fine.  I don’t.  I just put the leaves or pine needles in my garden on top of the beds that need them the most.

Pine Needles – Acid?

No need to be concerned about pine needles making your soil acid.  They won’t.  As they decay they become O.M. like anything else.  When O.M. is added to soil it changes the ph towards neutral.

Last Words

The gold is probably free for the taking or asking. The only thing you have to do is collect it and put it in your garden. When your plants are thriving next year, you’ll be glad you made the effort.


  • I am so glad to hear that pine needles don’t make soil too acid. I have often worried about that.
    Now I need to get to work.
    Thanks for yet another bit of good advice.

  • If pine is ok/good, then why do people with many pine trees have trouble growinggrass/other things under the fallen needles?


  • Hi Cate,
    Directly under any trees can be a problem area for growing almost anything.
    Using pine needles to mulch nicely prepared soil with lots of organic matter is different than growing under hard, uncultivated soil under a tree.
    Hope this answers your question.

  • Do you recommend chopping the leaves before composting them? We’ve noticed leaves in the garden attract slugs.

  • Hi Karen,
    Regarding your statement “We’ve noticed leaves in the garden attract slugs.” I devoted an entire Chapter in my book to that very subject.
    Rest assured that mulch (in this case your leaves) may create better conditions for slugs, but it is not necessarily responsible for slugs. The more you learn and improve your garden soil, the less problem you’ll have with slug damage. (Slugs will be in your garden whether you mulch or not.)

    My post should give you some help with that.

    I love it when we have time to cut our leaves up with the lawn mower. But we don’t always have time and leave them whole as much as we use them chopped. Nature will break them down for you if you don’t have time. You might find this helpful:


  • Julie, your question is a good one and one that I’m asked a lot.

    If someone happens to be visiting me when I’m hauling leaves to my garden, they almost without fail ask me how I’ll keep the leaves in place so they won’t blow away.

    I never quite know what to tell them because I only have that problem if winds are over 40 miles an hour — and even then things are not too bad. Fortunately our winds don’t often get over 40mph.

    And usually when leaves do blow around it’s when they’re extremely dry.

    When I rake my leaves into piles (before hauling to the garden) they seem to keep enough moisture that they don’t blow around much.

    You might dampen yours to keep them from blowing around if they’re really dry. Also you could also try putting other organic material on top of them — such as straw, grass clippings, plant residue or even various small branches from your trees that you can remove easily if not needed.

    Wish I had more suggestions to offer Julie, — but it’s just never been a problem for me.

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