| Nov 08, 2007

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Feature Article - November 8, 2007

Master Gardener: Leaves Glorious Leavesby Dale Odorizzi

Leaves are truly one of nature’s miracles. In the spring, they appear as a light green haze. All summer long, they make food for their trees to keep them strong and beautiful. They provide us with shade. As fall rolls around, they turn many colours, adding beauty to our landscape.

To many people, once the leaves fall to the ground, they become nothing but a big mess, a back-breaking chore. However, at this stage as the leaves progress, they become the gardener’s best friend.


If you have only a few trees on your yard, you can deal with your leaves by simply mowing over them. The ground up leaves will disappear over the winter months and provide nutrients to your lawn all year long.

If you have a lot of leaves, you will need to move the leaves from your lawn. Too many leaves piled on your lawn over the winter can kill off parts of your lawn. Once you have removed the leaves from your lawn, you can use them in a number of ways.

Many of us gardeners like to push the zone and grow plants that are just a bit too tender for this area. One way to help these tender beauties through the cold winter is to pile shredded leaves around the plants, once the ground has frozen. We wait until the ground is frozen so that the mice and voles have already found a nice warm spot to over winter. One year, I piled leaves around my roses in late October, as I was gathering leaves. When I removed the leaves in the spring, the bark on many of the rose bushes had been chewed off by over-wintering critters. I also pile leaves three feet high around my Butterfly Bushes and they make it through the winter very well. Shredded leaves work best around plants, as whole leaves tend to clump into a soggy mess.

If you plant bulbs, including garlic, in the fall, covering the bulbs with a nice layer of leaves will help to keep your bulbs nice and cozy over the winter. Be sure to remove the leaves early in the spring or the leaves of your bulbs will be yellow. They quickly turn green once you remove the leaves. You might need to cover your leaves with a few branches to keep them from blowing away if you are in an exposed area.

Shredded leaves also make excellent mulch on your flower and vegetable gardens. Using mulch during the growing season helps prevent water evaporation so you can reduce watering throughout the summer. Weeds are slower to germinate when your garden is mulched and if they do grow, the weeds are easy to pull out.

I also like to pile leaves on my vegetable garden. If I am ambitious, I will shred the leaves before putting them on the garden but if time is short, I will put the whole leaves on the garden and then dig or till the leaves into the garden. I like to make raised beds in my garden and so if any of the leaves are still whole in the spring, I simply rake them into the rows between the raised beds.

The final use I make of leaves is to make compost. Again, when I am ambitious, I shred the leaves and put them in my compost bin, layering them with cow manure from the friendly dairy farmer next door. Shredding the leaves helps them to decompose more quickly, but as I read somewhere, over time, everything organic will decompose. I usually stir up my compost once a year. At that time, anything that is still recognizable goes back into the working bin and anything that looks like beautiful rich, black soil goes into the “made compost bin”.

A little effort at this time of year helps your leaves to keep on giving, long after they have fallen from the ground.

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