Making the Most Out of Fall Leaves

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Do you still have fall leaves on the ground? Perhaps some bagged up and just sitting around? Then you might just have gardening gold!

Fall leaves are really amazing resource for our gardens and homesteads. But unfortunately it seems like most people just get rid of them. For someone like me that is actually to my advantage - I collected well over 200 bags of fall leaves from my neighbors last fall and I'm still working through those bags.

But as much as I love getting all these leaves - this is the 2nd year I have collected fall leaves - I would rather people make use of this resource nature provides every fall. Even if it meant I would have none to collect for my homestead!

If you are wondering how to use fall leaves on your garden or homestead then check out my blog post - Fall Leaves – 3 Ways to Put Them to Work on Your Homestead - so come next fall you can be ready to make the most out of this free and abundant resource.

3 Ways to Use Fall Leaves

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I mulched my front garden bed with leaves that I collected from my neighbors - this garden has currents, artichokes, stivia, garlic, and many different herbs all growing in it. Before I moved here this was just a mix of grass and gravel. Mulching with fall leaves is one way I have created an abundant garden in this area

In my blog post on fall leaves I cover 3 different ways you can use fall leaves on your homestead.

  1. Create leaf mold (also known as leaf compost) for your garden
  2. Use fall leaves as mulch around your plants
  3. Use fall leaves to prepare areas for future planting

I use each of these methods on my homestead and have seen a huge improvement in my soils and what I can grow because of fall leaves.

The blog post covers all 3 of these methods but here is some more info on how to use fall leaves to prepare areas for future planting.

Using Fall Leaves to Prepare Areas for Future Planting

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This area used to be a blackberry thicket. By clearing the blackberry and then using burlap bags with fall leaves on top I was able to get this area ready for live staking willows and for planting other native plants. Eventually, I will have a nice hedge for privacy along a busy road.

There really was nothing other than grass and a small number of trees when I moved onto my homestead. One of the first things I did after observing and making some designs was to plant hundreds of shrubs and trees.

But I did not want to just put these into the grass. So I used cardboard and newspaper with mulch on top to kill the grass and create the perfect growing areas for my trees and shrubs.

Often I used wood chips for this but fall leaves work amazingly too. In many ways I actually find fall leaves to be superior to wood chips since they build the soil faster but still retain soil moisture, prevent weeds from coming up and smoother grass when combined with cardboard/paper.

I have 7 fruit trees on order that will be planted in an area that used to be a compacted mix of grass, gravel and clay where the previous owner used to park a number of cars. That area has been transformed by mulching it all with fall leaves.

The fruit trees will continue improving that area through the spread of their roots and by dropping leaves each fall.

It is amazing what you can achieve when you work with nature. Instead of paving paradise to build a parking lot you can turn a parking lot back into paradise.

The Steps to Prepare Land for Planting with Fall Leaves

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Here you can see the burlap bags I put down first before adding the leaves.

It really is simple to prepare land for panting using fall leaves. Just follow these basic steps and you should be good to go.

  1. Remove any unwanted woody plants by cutting or digging them up depending on the species.
  2. Gather material that will suppress existing plants but will also breakdown. Here are some examples from toughest to weakest: burlap bags, card board, brown paper rolls from hardware stores, and newspaper.
    • The tougher material are better at killing off the existing vegetation but will take longer to breakdown.
  3. Place the material down over the existing vegetation. It is best to push the existing vegetation down flat and also make sure the material overlaps on the edges between each piece just like shingles on a house do.
  4. Gather fall leaves - you will want to apply it at least 4 inches thick since it will compress. I like to go for 6 inches or more if I have enough leaves.
  5. Place the fall leaves down on top of the first layer of material until you can't see any of the bottom layer of material.

Now just wait.

I like to do this work in the summer once the heat has made everything go dormant and then let it sit and breakdown until February when I can start planting into the prepared areas. Though sometimes you may need to wait even longer for the underlying material to break down.

But often I'm not that organized and I just plant and then do the same mulching process with the leaves all around the plants. It can be a bit annoying but it works.

If you want to learn more about how to prepare land for planting check out my blog post 6 Methods for Preparing Land for Planting.

Time to Start Using Fall Leaves

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Another picture of my front garden looking towards my front yard that I'm slowly converting into a mixed native and non-native food forest. Just today I was using fall leaves to prepare more of that area for planting

So are you going to start using fall leaves on your property next fall? There are other ways to use fall leaves on a homestead than the 3 I listed here. I have heard from people that use them in their chicken coops for example as a thick bedding and then later remove it and add it as a mulch around their fruit trees. Sounds like a great idea to me!

I would love to hear from you all - please leave a comment and upvote if you found this post useful and don't forget to check out the blog post to learn even more about fall leaves.

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Oh goodness. Another carbonaceous bandit!

I spent a couple months this fall picking up leaves from my entire neighborhood. I think my record was 86 bags in one day using the wife's mini van. I think we gathered a total of about 200 bags, only 21 from our own property. Many were mulched with the mower and put into compost piles which will be spread out where they are to add to the soil in those spots. Some was used a smulch, and the rest will be used throughout the year as bedding in the chicken coop and run. I think I've added a bag a week since August and they've turned it into five or six inches of soil in their run. I'm not sure yet if I'll harvest this or relocate the run and make the current run area into a new garden bed...

I love me some leaves.

lol, nice! I used the site Nextdoor to find people that had leaves in my area. Worked great and saved me time just driving around looking for bags :) I still have bags I'm trying to use up!

There's tons of mature trees in our neighborhood, so I just went out for an hour or so on trash days during the fall. Made it really easy.

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