Thanksgiving – A Time for Leaves

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.

Summer poinsettia just pulled and laid on top of beds.

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.

By looking at the beds in winter, it hardly seems possible that all that organic material was placed on them in the fall.

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.

Final Thought

As I count my blessings, you are among them.

Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving!


Related Posts:

Mulch – Keeping the Moisture in or Keeping It Out.

How Much Mulch is Enough?

What You Add This Fall Is the Secret to Fertilizing Your Soil for Next Spring.

Mulching -Weeds, Annuals, Crop Residue to the Rescue


All content including photos is copyrighted by  All Rights Reserved.


  • Thank you Michelle. Received your beautiful email and wishes. And yes, fortunately, we are given bright spots of joy even in the middle of grief. Your email was one. Thinking of you in Japan.

  • I’m always happy to see an article that promotes leaves for mulch because so many are wasted every year. I always chip my leaves for the beds but put whole leaves on my paths so they mat and stop weeds etc. from growing there and I do not have to weed. Always, a big thank you for your tips

    Happy gardening

    Ray Kent

  • Happy Thanksgiving, Theresa.
    I’ll be helping our Senior Center put together a super dinner at noon today!
    We’ll be thinking about you.

  • Thanks for describing how you prepare your beds in the fall. The pictures are a great addition. Interesting that you use whole leaves; will try that next year. I thought it was cut up leaves or none. I am trying 3 cover crops this year: winter rye, crimson clover and a small bit of forage radish I got for free. But I just laid down compost and straw over it.

    I appreciate all of your garden insight this past year!

  • Happy Thanksgiving to you Theresa. This comment comes to you from our annual high desert camping trip. We bring our motorhome and cook the traditional Thanksgiving meal. The dogs LOVE it because there is no one around as it is 500,000 acres of trails. No campgrounds as most people know them, just turnouts amongst all of the beauty.
    I love how you reference other posts for more information on mulching. I absolutely LOVE what the leaves do to my clay soil.

  • Theresa, while I dream of piles of shredded leaves in my garden, it hasn’t happened yet. We tend to let them lay in our wooded area at the back of the property. As I have time, and good weather, I will toss some grass clippings in with the leaves, sort of layering them. That lets more air in and they do break down nicely over the winter. I have plenty of carbon and nitrogen laden chop and drop in the garden, so I could adopt your methodology … when I can get the leaves transported!

    Hope you have a blessed Thanksgiving! You are in my thoughts!

  • A neighbor was kind enough to mulch bunches of his leaves and bring them over to me (we have hardly any) and I piled them on at least 6″ deep on all
    my empty raised beds, everbearing raspberries and blueberries. However I also put that much mulch on my garlic which I planted in October (Western Washington coastal area). Is this OK?? Or did I put too much on them? They, of course, had not show their little heads before the mulch was applied.

  • Mary Jean, the only thing I’d have a question about is the garlic. If I were in your “shoes”,I think I’d just take my hand and brush back about 4 or 5 inches of the leaves from where you know the garlic is planted.

    I’m a bit surprised (since you planted in October) that you haven’t seen the garlic peak through the soil. Why not just dig for one with your hand just to see what’s going on with them. (Look for roots being formed.)

    Once they come through and/or when temperatures really get cold, return another inch or two of the leaves over them.

    Let me know what you do. Also, if you need more help — let me know.

  • Hi Theresa, and happy late Thanksgiving. I just read about your and Bill’s Thanksgiving tradition of raking and moving leaves…so poignant. I know you miss him…

    You’re always such an inspiration, no matter which article I read.

    I write for our local newspaper, I may have told you the last time I wrote. My philosophy mirrors yours and sometimes I get frustrated with those who ask but aren’t really interested in WORKING their soil, or UNDERSTANDING the dynamics of under-the-ground.

    Oh, well, I get over it and keep doing what i know works. At least I know I won’t have hungry microbes!

    Keep inspiring and encouraging!
    Thank you!

  • Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Theresa! Thank you for sharing here how to layer leaves and straw together. I do not have the benefit of leaves here, but it is good to know how to do it.

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