Even though they are full of nutrients, leaves are often raked, bagged and left at the curbside for trash pickup. But there are several ways to make good use of this natural resource. Leaving them in your flower beds can be beneficial under certain circumstances. But allowing them to pile up can actually be detrimental to your plants. While fallen leaves can rejuvenate your soil, giving your beds and garden a boost, it's the thickness of the cover that makes a difference.
While a thin layer of leaves can insulate delicate roots during cold weather and hot summer months, a thick layer can block the sun from penetrating the soil, potentially causing soil-borne diseases. If your garden is knee-deep in leaves, thin the layer with a leaf rake and bag the rest. Adding 4 inches or less of leaf mulch to your flower beds helps to regulate weed growth, maintain soil temperature and hold moisture.
Collect and Compost
Raking and collecting leaves from your flower beds and starting a compost pile will give you a good source of nutrient-rich soil for new starts in the spring. Use the pile for all of your yard waste using a ratio of 1 part green to 2 parts of brown matter. Leaves have an abundance of carbon, so layering with green matter such as grass clippings and vegetable refuse from your kitchen adds a source of nitrogen to speed up decomposition.
Tools to Use
If your leaves are more than a few inches deep, thin the layer with the proper garden tools, or remove all of the leaves, mulch them with a mulching mower and reapply. A long-handled bow rake can uproot some of your more delicate plants, particularly those with a shallow root system. A long-handled leaf rake is lightweight and better suited for removing leaves in beds where the plants are spaced far apart. To avoid damaging closely spaced plants, consider using a leaf blower to blow the leaves out of your flower beds and a hand rake to pick up the leaves left behind.
If your lawn and garden are covered in a carpet of leaves, recycle the leaves by first raking them out of your flower beds then sprinkling them on your lawn. Use a mulching mower on the lawn to slice and dice them and collect them in a leaf bag attached to your mower. Empty the bag in your flower beds and spread the mulched leaves around your plants about 3 to 4 inches deep to keep the weeds down and to retain moisture. Recycled leaves make a nutrient-rich mulch that is free, easy to spread and quick to decompose.