In my October garden to-do list I mentioned saving/stealing leaves for mulching the garden. Really, this is such a cheap, easy, and beneficial thing to do for the garden, I have no idea why everybody doesn't do it! And don't just take my word for it: Donna Balzer recently wrote about how leaves have more nutrients than manure and Nora Bryan recently wrote about how NOT cleaning up the garden is best practice in Calgary's climate because the plants left standing and the leaf mulch will catch the snow and also insulate our gardens against Calgary's drastic winter temperature changes and dryness (Chinooks).
If you haven't started, it's not too late to save leaves for the garden! Here are some tips to consider:
- If you have lots of your own leaves, save them! Rake them onto the garden. It's better to wait until the perennials have died back so the plants don't smother under too many leaves, but a few leaves in between the still-growing perennials shouldn't hurt anything.
- If you've got extra, start a dedicated compost bin of just leaves, or do the almost zero-work method of turning them into leaf mold that I described in this post last year. If you've got a lawn mower or mulcher, chop of the leaves first for faster decomposition, but it's not necessary if the leaves are small (see below.)
- If you don't have enough of your own leaves (that's me!), steal them! I've taken bagged leaves from people's back alleys and also from leaf drop locations (before the leaf drop signs were up so technically that's not stealing, right?) I am even picky about the leaves I take - pre-chopped leaves are best (you can tell because the bag will be at least five times heavier than a bag of unchopped leaves), and also clear bags are preferable because you can see what's inside (you want nothing but leaves, and smaller, curly leaves such as birch and elm are better than big, flat leaves such as poplar because the big leaves get matted down and don't make as light and fluffy of a mulch as the smaller ones do.)
I'm currently saving bags of stolen leaves to gradually mulch the whole garden as the perennials die back, and I've filled one cubic-yard-sized compost bin as well. I think I've "rescued" at least 30 bags! My friends and family think I'm crazy... Do you?
There is also some good information posted at Fine Gardening on this topic: