“Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold.” – Robert Frost
This poem comes to my mind every year around this time as the leaves are beginning to change colors and shed for the year. For a full year, these trees have worked diligently, pulling nutrients from deep in the soil to develop the current year’s foliage. But all too often, gardeners and homeowners will rake their lawns, only to bag up the leaves and put them by the side of the road.
These bags of brown gold are then put into a landfill to serve no other purpose. Yard trimmings and other compostable materials, such as food waste, comprise 28 percent of material in U.S. landfills. This is an alarming amount of material that otherwise could have been composted.
Using fallen leaves in the garden is one of the easiest, cheapest and most eco-friendly solutions gardeners can employ in their own yards. These leaves can be gathered by raking, blowing or using a lawnmower with a bag attachment. Using a mower with a bag is a great way to chop and shred the leaves, as well as create a more uniform mulch. This could create a neater and tidier appearance to the garden.
Fallen leaves make an excellent and free mulch. Once gathered by raking, blowing or mowing, you will then be able to put them into beds around trees, shrubs, flowers or vegetables. The layer of leaves should be put out about 2 to 3 inches thick to help control weeds. If you prefer the look of store-bought mulches, consider using a base layer of fallen leaves, then coming back over the top with your favorite purchased mulch.
Over time, these leaves that are used as mulch will break down. This will provide your plant with nutrients or fertilizers while helping to improve the quality of the soil beneath. When leaves are used as a mulch, they tend to break down rather quickly. Feel free to add 2-3 additional inches of leaves each season. November to December is when many of the deciduous trees begin to lose their leaves, but in early spring, the live oaks begin to lose theirs, giving rise to another wave of free mulch.
If you are one who actively composts or would like to start, these leaves will make a great addition to the compost bin. Compost is used primarily in bed preparation to improve the soil. Collecting leaves and adding them to your compost bin will greatly increase the amount of compost you can create, cutting down on garden costs as well as increasing the health of your garden plants.
Whether you use the fallen leaves to mulch or add to the compost bin, eventually the benefits will make it to the plants. Keeping these leaves will help save on mulch, compost, landfill space and fertilizers. It’s almost as if money actually does grow on trees.
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture