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Dec. 3, 2021 | Friday
Editorials and Opinions
Growing Together: Rake leaves but mulch them for free 'black gold' compost
Joanne Young photo

Well, you knew that this time was coming, you hoped that it wouldn’t, but, regardless, it is upon us. That’s right, it is leaf-raking time.

I must say that as long it is a warm, sunny, dry day when I tackle raking, I really don’t mind this task.

Before you start raking up leaves, though, let's just stop and think about what we are doing.

We spend hours raking up the leaves, putting them into bags (that at least are now made from biodegradable paper), and then we put them out at the curb to be picked up for recycling.

Then, the following spring, we head off to the garden centre to buy compost to add to our gardens.

It always seems strange to me that we just discard these leaves and don't make use of this resource by turning the leaves into “black gold.” It is so much cheaper to use what nature gives us for free and take advantage of all the benefits all those leaves offer.

So, before you start stuffing all those leaves into bags, consider making use of them as a mulch in your gardens.

It is best to shred them up first. Some leaves, such as Norway maples and oaks, have a thicker cuticle layer and may not break down on their own over winter unless you shred them.

The easiest way to do that is by using either a lawn mower with a mulching blade or a leaf blower/vacuum/mulcher. If you don’t have a mulching blade on your mower, which cuts up the leaves smaller, you can just use your regular mower and go over the leaves several times.

Shredding the leaves first, before putting them on your garden, will help them decompose more quickly. The smaller the pieces of leaves are the quicker they decompose.

It is best if the leaves are dry when shredding them. The only leaves that you do not want to use are ones that have had a disease on them, such as tar spot or powdery mildew.

You also want to avoid walnut leaves as they contain a substance (Juglone) that can inhibit plant growth.

When using dried, shredded leaves as mulch, spread them at a depth of 7.5 to 10 centimetres (three to four 4 inches) around existing trees and shrubs and five to 7.5 centimetres (two to three inches) over perennial beds.

You can also be putting a thicker layer of shredded leaves on vegetable garden areas in preparation for spring planting.

The benefits of using shredded leaves as a mulch are many because applying leaf mulch:

*Will keep the soil warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, thereby protecting more sensitive plants.

*Will boost nutrients in the soil, reducing the amount of fertilizer needed. As the dried leaves decompose they release traces of calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium.

*Will supress the growth of weeds, which, in turn, cuts down on your maintenance time and use of herbicides.

*Is a great way of adding organic matter back into your garden. This will help to break up a heavier clay soil or help to provide better moisture retention with sandy soils.

*Will shade your soil so it will not dry out as quickly compared to being fully exposed to sunlight. Therefore, you will not need to be watering as often.

*Can help reduce soil erosion in certain instances.

And best of all – it’s free!

All great reasons why you should consider mulching your leaves this fall and watch them turn into black gold.

So, when you see all the leaves falling from the trees, don’t think of them as more work, but rather as a gift that keeps giving back.

Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at