Leaves - How to Get the Most Benefit

Using Your Leaves in a Way to Get the Most Benefit

If you’ve gardened hand in hand with nature or if you’re a regular reader of TendingMyGarden.com you already know how valuable your fall leaves are to your garden. 

But do you know the way to use them that will most benefit your garden and thus, next year’s crops?

I’m still in the process of raking my leaves.

Popular Ways Folks Use Their Leaves

Many folks compost their leaves, thinking that compost is the magic elixir that guarantees success in the garden.  Certainly it can be beneficial.  But it does not eliminate the need for energy in the soil that raw organic materials provide during the decay process..

Others chop them with the lawn mower or weedeater and then apply the finely chopped results to their beds.

Before I knew the information presented in this post, Bill use to go over the leaves with the lawnmower before they were hauled to the garden.  I especially liked those for mulching lettuce beds.

How Do I Know the Best Way to Use  Leaves to Get the Most Benefit?

The information used to draw my conclusion comes from the years of research done by notable soil scientist, Robert Parnes. 

This research was done when he ran the soil testing facility at Wood End Laboratory in Maine. 

The specialty of the Lab was to offer recommendations for organic fertilizers. Thus, much of the research was done in an effort to understand the distinctions among organic, inorganic, and synthetic fertilizers.

The information he documented is invaluable, but seldom seen even though it’s available to us to read for free online.  (I gave much more information in this post.)

Those of us who take advantage of this information will know that extra knowledge. And by using it will reap its rewards —  having even greater success in our gardens.

The Most Benefit for Your Garden is Derived from Whole Leaves that Decay in Your Garden.

Here’s why:

Organic raw materials pass through several stages as they decay.  A unique effect (or contribution) is made to the soil in each stage.

Each stage of decay involves specific soil organisms. If any of those organisms are not involved in the decay process what they would have offered is then missing from the soil.

Finished compost (compost that is totally decayed) adds NO energy to your garden soil. Its value lies only in the nitrogen and minerals it “may contain” which will eventually be available to your plants.

(I used the words “may contain” because what the compost contains will depend on what was used to make it.)

It’s the decay of raw organic materials that add energy to soil. To get the most energy – you’ll want every stage of decay.

Bottom Line to Mr. Parnes’s Years of Research

Mr. Parnes noted that when there was controversy about which fertilizers were best, those involved tended to ignore (and belittle) the far more important value of organic residues: which is its contribution of energy to an agricultural system. 

The energy from organic residues is required to maintain soil fertility and there is NO substitute.

Interesting to Note

It’s interesting to note that long before the chemical industry came along a hundred plus years ago, farmers all over the world used their organic residues to keep their soils fertile.

Most have lost that knowledge because of the wide spread promotion from that very rich industry.

Recommended Reading

I would especially suggest the following posts to further expand your understanding of what I’ve covered in this post.





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  • Thank you for this important and amazing information in this post!
    Happy thanksgiving!

  • Leaves! Leaves! Leaves!
    Hiya Theresa! And Happy Thanksgiving to you.
    As you already know, we’re fortunate to have two gigantic, ancient oak trees across the street from us and even better, we’re downwind from them. So every fall a vast majority of those leaves begin showing up in our yard and the street in front of our yard. I’ve already dragged my lawn sweeper behind the mower 3 times over the past few weeks and also using a rake and trash can to get the leaves where the mower/sweeper can’t go. Last Monday, Mike across the street asked if I wanted him to blow the leaves out of his yard into the street for me to sweep up when we were both out there “cleaning up”.
    All the trees in our yard are bare now, but those two oaks still have many leaves which will continue to fall thru the winter months as well. We couldn’t have picked a better place to live!!
    I’ve got a bin made of chicken wire 6 feet by 8 feet by 4 feet high that is packed full, and I do mean packed, as in tamped down repeatedly, filled to overflowing and covered with netting to keep it all in. Have started another big pile up against the fence on the east side of the garden which is going on the garden beds a little at a time as I clean up for winter/prep for spring.
    After 3 years of piling leaves up as mulch in the fall and letting them do their thing, there is a layer of rich, black, beautiful topsoil and inch or 2 deep in most of our beds.
    I used to chop leaves up with a mower with a bag, but that got to be more hassle than it was worth and I have mostly put leaves on whole since then. The exception is lettuce beds. I’ll fill a trash can about 1/3 full and then weed eat the leaves into little pieces that won’t blow onto and smother lettuce seedlings. But other than that, it’s gather them, pile them up, spread them on the beds and let them go.
    I’m so happy you’ve simplified, not to mention economized gardening for me as much as you have over the past few years!
    Take care and God bless,

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