Mulching With Leaves For A Healthier Garden

by Texas Homesteader~

This time of year, many are dealing with all those falling leaves. It seems they’re EVERYWHERE!

Those leaves can actually be a fun autumn tradition. We used to enjoy raking up huge piles of leaves and laughing as the kids ran through them again & again. Aaaahhhhh sweet memories.

But oftentimes when leaves are raked into a pile they’re simply stuffed into huge plastic trash bags & sent off to the landfill.

But those plastic-entombed leaves sitting in a landfill do no good there. Maybe there’s a better use? Something that could actually benefit me in some way?

As a matter of fact – yes. Leaves can offer many benefits in the garden, including healthier plants, cooler summertime soil temps, better moisture retention, and/or less weeding.

That all adds up to a healthier garden with less work. What’s not to love??!

I use leaves for mulch instead of raking and bagging them and sending them to the landfill. There are lots of ways the garden benefits. #TexasHomesteader

Leaves – All-Natural

It’s true we have lots of trees here on the homestead. But I don’t typically rake up our leaves when they fall.

I feel it’s important to the ecosystem to allow them to stay where they are. Many tiny lifeforms rely on that leafy ground covering.

Plus, you know, we live in the country. So we don’t worry too much about our lawn not looking polished enough. LOL!

But I get it, not everyone can just ignore fallen leaves. If you need to remove them from your yard, maybe instead of sending them off to the landfill you can use them in your garden. They can actually solve quite a few garden challenges.

Vegetable Garden Challenges

Where we live in NE Texas, summers are typically hot and dry. I need to give my poor veggie garden plants every opportunity to be able to thrive. I need to stack the odds in their favor.

One way I do that is by using mulch to shade the ground around my vegetable plants. Shading the ground will keep the soil surface cooler by protecting it from the harsh rays of the sun.

And it also helps conserve moisture by slowing evaporation. That vital moisture is really needed by those plants during the hot & dry growing season, let me tell ya!

PLUS – by mulching the surface of the soil, many of those weed seeds are deprived of the light they need to germinate. Less weeding? YES PLEASE!

So my veggie garden is always mulched in one way or another.

Natural Garden Mulching Options

I have many different ways of mulching my garden.

Spent Hay – Sometimes I use spent hay from around the hay ring, or sometimes old straw. I simply scoop it up and layer it around the plants, keeping it from directly touching the stem of the plants.

It’s true I need to make sure the hay wasn’t sprayed with an herbicide before it was baled. Plus there are often seeds that will try to sprout in my garden. So there’s the potential added chore of keeping the garden beds properly weeded. But I’ve found that if my mulch is thick enough, sprouting weeds are usually not too much trouble for me.

Hay can be used for mulch as long as you know it hasn't been sprayed. I use leaves for mulch instead of raking and bagging them and sending them to the landfill. There are lots of ways the garden benefits. #TexasHomesteader

Grass Clippings – Sometimes I’ll use cut grass from the lawn-mower bag. When RancherMan mows the lawn I’ll have him empty the bag of grass clippings in a corner of my garden, where I’ll allow it to stay for a few weeks.

Careful though – Using freshly-cut grass can burn your plants. So I allow it to turn completely brown and cool to the touch before adding it to my planting beds.

Grass clippings make a great mulch, but make sure they're cured first #TexasHomesteader

Living Mulch – Or sometimes instead I’ll use a living mulch. That’s basically when I purposely plant vining garden plants and allow them to grow across the ground around other garden plants to shade the ground around them.

Simple, huh? Plus this mulch typically offers me food as well, whether cantaloupe, pumpkin, watermelon, etc.

It’s not maintenance free though like leaves are. I’ll need to keep that plant watered as well as redirected while it’s growing to make sure it grows where I want it to. And of course I’m dealing with garden pests trying to attack my living mulch at any given time. 

Living mulch - vining plants growing around other vegetable plants to protect the soil #TexasHomesteader

Leaf Mulching

But my favorite mulch option for my veggie garden is using leaves. According to Texas A&M University, fallen leaves contain 50% – 80% of the nutrients that the tree had taken up from the ground. Might as well put those nutrient-dense leaves to good use!

And unlike the weed problem with hay, unless you’re raking up leaves that came from trees with a seed nut such as pecan or acorns from oak – well they’re basically a weed-free mulch.

And unlike the living mulch, I put the leaves in the garden once and I’m pretty much done for the season. Plus they’ll break down and further enrich the soil.

I use leaves for mulch instead of raking and bagging them and sending them to the landfill. There are lots of ways the garden benefits. #TexasHomesteader

And depending upon what kind of leaves you’re raking up, they break down pretty quickly. Especially lighter leaves such as maple. 

If they’re allowed to break down for a bit longer (6-months to a year) those are the leaves I want to mix into the top of my garden soil in the form of ‘leaf mold’. (i.e.: broken-down leaves) They give the soil a fantastic texture and a nutrient boost for healthy plant growth.

Although thicker leaves may take longer to break down, they have a place to help in the garden too. I’ll often reserve the thicker leaves for mulching around my actual veggie plant. 

But whichever type of leaves I’m dealing with, I find that crushed leaves don’t blow away quite as easily. And they degrade faster too so they can provide those nutrients I’m after to my garden.

I like to speed their breaking down by crushing or chopping them when they’re harvested. There are many methods for getting those leaves crushed, it’s easy!

Methods For Crushing Leaves

Low-Tech – The low-tech method is to just stomp them down. I’ll rake leaves into a pile & transfer them into huge buckets. Then I step inside the bucket and stomp around like I’m stomping grapes. LOL

This works especially well with those finer, thinner leaves such as maple.

Lawn Mower – If you have a mulching mower with a bagger you can just mow over the leaves. No raking or grape-stomping action required! The mower will crush all those leaves for you and the bagger will make it easy to capture/transfer those crushed leaves.

Wood Chipper – Some people have a chipper. So  they can just toss those leaves into the chipper machine which will chop the leaves for them as well.

Whatever method works best for you, get those leaves harvested & crushed or chopped!

Storing Leaves Until Next Season

After I get the leaves harvested & chopped I place them right on my planting areas to begin degrading. I’ve read that if the leaves are chopped they’re ready to use in just 3-6 months. (whole leaves can take a year or longer!)

So I’ll typically just let my chopped leaves degrade in place over the winter. Then next spring I’ll mix the most degraded leaf mold into the top of my garden planting soil. I’ll reserve the heavier leaves for mulching around the plants once they’re growing.

All in all my garden will love, love, LOVE them next spring! It makes good use of a FREE resource – leaves. Who knew they could be so beneficial??!

#UseWhatchaGot

~TxH~

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My favorite gardening hacks all in one place. #TexasHomesteader

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References:

  • Texas A&M University Leaf Management Plan
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