Thanksgiving seems to be synonymous with leaves falling. Trees that have not dropped their leaves usually do so on Thanksgiving or shortly after.
Bill and I always enjoyed spending more time together in the yard on Thanksgiving day; usually raking leaves and pulling them to garden beds on a big sheet of plastic.
That was several blessings rolled into one: having Bill with me, the beautiful day, having the health to get out and rake, and the leaves themselves.
Leaves could be likened to a tool you use to accomplish certain things in your garden.
They most often perform the job of feeding the soil, improving the soil (texture, drainage, etc), mulching (covering the soil), and perhaps protecting various plants from winter kill.
To Get the Best Results with Leaves (or any mulch)
As with any tool, you have to know how to use it correctly to get the best results and to prevent results you don’t want.
Thick piles of leaves or other organic materials (either whole OR shredded) can become matted and prevent needed air or rain from getting through.
That could be the downfall of herbs or other plants that you want to save from winter-kill by mulching. They’ll succumb to smothering (no air) or even dry soil (no rain getting through) rather than the cold.
Adding Layers in Steps
As I’ve detailed in many prior posts, I rough cut and leave plant residue on the beds at the end of the season.
Some residue, like that from summer poinsettia which serves as a cover crop in some beds, is bulky at first. After 3 or 4 freezes it becomes very brittle and is easily broken and reduced in bulk by just pushing on it.
The picture below shows summer poinsettia the day I pulled it and laid it on the beds. Since it’s taken at an angle, I numbered the beds so you can better understand what you’re looking at.
The blueberry bushes are barely visible at the top left. The bed in front of them has summer poinsettia residue on it. In beds 2 and 3, I’ve used half the bed for winter lettuce (just planted) and the other half (to the right) has the summer poinsettia on it; so do all of beds 4 and 5.
Not shown to the left of the center path are more beds.
Click to enlarge the picture for better viewing.
Rain goes through this first layer easily.
When leaves are raked and ready AND soil is moist throughout, I apply a several of inches of loose whole leaves.
Keep in mind that if you have leaves (or straw) piled up for any length of time (waiting to be moved to the garden) part of the pile can become matted together. You’ll want to shake those apart for the best results.
I covered this in more detail here.
Next I add straw. The only reason to add the straw as the last layer is to keep the leaves from blowing away. Straw, especially if it’s damp will hold the leaves nicely.
Reduces in Bulk Quickly
Within a few weeks one would never know by looking that I had all that organic material on the beds. It reduces in bulk quickly, and even with relatively cold temperatures of a Virginia winter, all but the very top layer has decayed by spring. I just pull back the thin layer of straw and plant.
Want More Details and Examples?
Below are four posts that give a lot more details and examples of how to use leaves and other mulches.
If you want even more, use the search box in the upper left and search “mulch”. I’ve written more than 50 posts that address this subject either in great detail or by giving mention to an important point.
As I count my blessings, you are among them.
Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving!
All content including photos is copyrighted by TendingMyGarden.com. All Rights Reserved.