Somewhere we Wisconsinites were taught that leaves are enemies to banish from the landscape. We spend much time and effort on this endeavor.
In reality, fall leaves are incredibly beneficial for our land, gardens, even livestock. They’re full of carbon [plant food] and minerals drawn up from deep in the earth by the tree roots. By using leaves on the land we’re returning these nutrients to the soil.
And, holy smokes, they’re FREE!
Let’s look at five great ways to use your leaves around the house and farm this fall:
- Lawn food – True story. Run the leaves over with the lawnmower so you’ve got small leaf pieces that will settle between the grass blades. Don’t smother the grass – if you can’t see the grass anymore, spread the leaf mulch to other areas.
- Garden mulch – Same concept as above. Mulch the leaves and scatter over your bare garden soil. Over winter, this mulch insulates and feeds the soil critters while also protecting against erosion. Come spring, the mulch offers a weed barrier and food for your veggies.
- Compost piles – Throw them in the compost! Mixed with high-nitrogen materials, like grass clippings, manure, or coffee grounds, your leaves will offer a big boost to your composting efforts and, later, your plants and soil. Again, they’ll break down faster if they’re mulched first.
- Insulation – If you have a young or sensitive tree or plant in your yard, you can insulate and protect it over winter with leaves. Create a ring around it with chicken wire then pack it gently with dry leaves. In the spring, remove the wire and let the leaves remain around the base of your plant as mulch, to keep it fed, moist, and weed-free through the summer. Also, thick leaf piles over the septic tank keep it from freezing.
- Animal bedding – Dry leaf mulch works great in chicken nest boxes or coops. Whole leaves can also be tossed into chicken runs to cover bare soil and give your hens something to scratch around in. When the leaves are nicely mixed with manure, they make an ideal carbon-nitrogen addition to the compost pile.
Leaves are an annual gift to a land steward. Look around your place and see how leaves could be used – maybe they can even replace material you have to buy every year!
Please share other ways you use leaves around your farm, house, and yard in the comments.