Fall, with its crisp, cool air, brings beautiful color to deciduous trees—and, eventually, the land itself, as those beautiful leaves flutter down and pile up. Happily, fallen leaves can find new life within our gardens, with some key preparation first.
Fallen leaves are great for using as natural mulch. Not only will they save you the expense of purchasing mulch, but they will also help to enrich your soil, lock in moisture and protect your plants from winter's fluctuating temperatures.
Here's the key thing, though: When using leaves as a mulch, make sure to shred them first with a mulching mower, shredder or leaf blower on the vacuum setting. A light layer of small, thin leaves applied without first being shredded is fine, but for the most part shredding is important. Adding too thick of a layer of whole leaves can block air and water from penetrating the ground. Thick layers of leaves can also do the exact opposite—locking in too much moisture, potentially damaging the plants that are susceptible to rot and other fungal diseases.
Once a layer of small and/or shredded leaves is applied to your beds, you can add the remainder to your compost bin, pack them up in bags for spring mulch use or dispose of the rest according to your city or town's guidelines, such as raking them to the curb for collection, bagging them for pickup or delivery them to a municipal compost pile. You can also use a mulching mower to chop up a thin layer to be left on your lawn as a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Read more about that here.