Piles of leaves under bare trees are becoming a very common sight in our cities at this time of year. Large black plastic bags filled with with leaves tend to follow this trend. As Spring approaches in a few short months, some of these same people will be running out to garden stores to buy mulch and new garden soil. If we all take a little time now to prep for Spring, we can save ourselves some time and money down the road. Use the leaves!
The street tree outside our house is a brilliant red maple that decided a week ago to drop all of its leaves. I spent one dry evening outside raking and running the wheelbarrow around. By the end of the night, I had about eight wheelbarrow loads of fluffy, crunchy, organic material to add to my raised vegetable beds.
Why use leaves on your garden beds? The leaves will break down over the winter months adding mulch material back into your soil. What is so great about mulch? Mulch does the following:
- Prevents soil compaction which allows room and oxygen for microorganisms to thrive
- Helps retain more water in your soil, so you can water less often
- Also reduces how much water evaporates from the soil surface, since it can be stored below
- Your plants have a blanket to keep them warm in the cold months
- Your plants have some buffer from the hot summer months, keeping them a little cooler
- Worms come up through the soil to eat the composting leaves. They leave their castings behind which acts as a nice manure-nitrogen boost
The list goes on and on, but now is the time to take these little steps for better soil next Spring. Better soil means better crops! I don’t even till the decomposted leaves under in the Spring, but rather plant right on top of them. AND we don’t need to waste a huge plastic bag and gas hauling away something entirely useful in the flower and vegetable beds.