Fallen leaves: either a problem or a gold mine

It has been a warm fall with only a few leaves on the ground but more are sure to come.

It has been a warm fall with only a few leaves on the ground but more are sure to come.

To some dealing with all the fallen leaves is a problem, to others they are a gold mine.

Leaves can be used as mulch to protect plants or in compost.

Once most of the leaves have fallen, gather them with a bagging mower or by hand.

A quick way to gather leaves by hand is to rake them onto a large tarp.

Once the tarp is full, drag it to the desired location and dump.

Eventually the tarp will need to be replaced but they usually last a number of years.

Later in the season when the ground starts to freeze, pile leaves over tender plants.

Leaves will act as an insulation keeping the plant and ground a constant temperature through out the winter.

For best results use a minimum of 6 inches (15 cm) of mulch or leaves.

In windy areas, place branches on top to defect the wind and hold down the leaves.

Leaves also work to insulate tender shrubs but a cage must be put around the plant to keep the leaves in place.

This can be as simple as a box, stakes and chicken wire or a purchased cover.

When filling a cage, jiggle the leaves to ensure that all air pockets are eliminated.

Expect the leaves to settle.

Either start with excess mulch or be prepared to add more in a couple of weeks.

Once leaves have fallen they are the brown or carbon part of compost.

They can be added as such to a traditional compost pile or they can be put into a bag to make bag compost.

Start with a large garbage bag and stuff it full of leaves.

Add some nitrogen and water then tie the bag shut.

Cut a few slits in the bag and place it out of view, preferably in a sunny area.

Turning the bags over until they freeze will speed up the process but it is not necessary.

Come spring the amount of material in the bags will have shrunk substantially.

Check the material to see if the process is complete if not add more nitrogen or moisture and set it aside for later.

Nitrogen or the green part of compost can come in many forms.

Coffee grounds, grass clippings, compost starter or high nitrogen fertilizer all work well.

The basic rule of thumb for compost is six parts carbon to one part nitrogen.

Leaves that are left whole are very bulky.

Running over leaves with a mower will diminish their size as will chopping them with a weed eater.

For the latter, put them in a confined space such as a large garbage can and place the weed eater head inside.

Be sure to wear safety goggles.

Chopping the leaves will speed up the process and allow more product to be put in each bag.

Instead of throwing out all you leaves this fall use them to make compost for next year’s garden.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at www.igardencanada.com or your_garden@hotmail.com