The second week of November reminds me of a story. We were visiting Northern Spain one autumn and noticed families collecting fallen leaves as they walked in a public park. The leaves were stuffed into plastic garbage bags and then carried back home for storage in their small city gardens.
The locals explained that they stored the bags of leaves all winter and then will add to their soil in the spring. We were visiting a part of Spain called the “green heart” where gardens were lush, winters cold and every family seemed to grow their own vegetables in tiny back yards. Fallen leaves had replaced manure as a free source of fertilizer and a cheap way to improve the soil.
Fast forward to our wet November weather. You really must remove any fallen leaves that cover the lawn this month as matted leaves will smother and kill off the grass. So this is a good time to gather those leaves into plastic garbage bags and make your own leaf mold to use as great organic matter in the garden.
Five Steps: From Fallen Leaves to Free Fertilizer
1. Rake the leaves from your lawn and stuff them into a plastic garbage bag. The bigger the bag the better.
Remember if you leave a carpet of leaves on the lawn, it will block out the light and you‘ll find moss and weeds under the leaves instead of a lawn.
2. Add a shovel full of soil to the bag of leaves.
Soil from the garden is full of living creatures, and you need these soil critters that go to work to break down the fallen leaves.
3. Add a handful or two of grass clippings or other green plant material to the bag of leaves.
The nitrogen from grass clippings provides the food or “gas” that provides fuel for the little living creatures that are now working to break down the leaves in the sack.
4. Next, close the opening of the bag and poke air holes all over the plastic sack of leaves with a screw driver or spade.
The living creatures inside the soil need air as they work to break down the leaves.
5. Finally, just store the leaf bag outdoors all winter.
You can hide your leaf sacks under the patio furniture, behind a shrub or in your garden shed. Now just let it rot. In the spring you’ll have leaf mold -not compost, but a lot like compost. Even one shovel full of leaf mold will do wonders for boosting the fertility of your soil. You’ll see white mold filaments in the now decomposing leaves and this leaf mold is really great stuff. Leaf mold helps all soil types to hold more moisture and it helps plants to grab and hold nutrients.
So how do you use up these bags of leaf mold in the spring? Dig a ditch, fill with leaf mold then add a few inches of soil. Plant tomatoes, peas, potatoes or squash right on top of the leaf mold ditch. Less water, more vegetables.
Mix a handful of leaf mold into your container gardens with your regular potting soil. This helps the potting soil hold moisture and fertilizer.
Add leaf mold to the planting hole when you transplant or add new trees and shrubs.
But most important of all:
Layer the leaf mold around the roots of perennials, trees and shrubs plopping it right on top of small weeds - especially those little white blooming shot weeds. The weight of the moist leaf mold smothers young flowering weeds so you don’t have to pull or spray them.
It’s like a garden miracle - fallen leaves you need to remove anyway that will improve your soil, make your plants more drought- tolerant and smother weeds. Dirt cheap gardening the way it used to be done.
Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her Web site at www.binettigarden.com.