I should carry around a sign stating “Will Work for Compost” for I do every autumn. Other than my labor, my compost is free because it’s from beautiful shredded leaves.
Fall leaves fall everywhere.
Leaves fall like snow in my garden. In fact, they start to fall just about the time we’re ready to plant cabbages, pansies, and bulbs. Various oaks, which make up most of the native, deciduous trees in my central Oklahoma landscape, have the toughest, most fibrous leaves I know of, but if you rake and shred them, they can become a gardener’s best friend.
In my state, Interstate 35 is the demarcation line between the short grass prairie and the beginning of the deciduous forest.
I live east of that line in an area called the Cross Timbers, known primarily for blackjack oak and post oak but also for cottonwoods, Mexican plum, elms, black hickory, and other woody vegetation. By mid-November, my lawn and front flower beds are covered with leaves.
However, blackjacks (Quercus marilandica) retain their leaves into winter, so the second round of raking occurs in late winter or early spring.
If I don’t remove the oak leaves from my front fescue lawnette, they smother my shade grass and smaller herbaceous plants. However, if oak leaves are shredded, they make splendid winter mulch, great compost, and an even better outdoor seed-starting medium.
Note I leave the leaves in areas that can handle their compaction.
In a state like mine, your soil longs for good compost.
For instance, if you have clay soil, compost loosens it over time. For sandy soil, compost improves its ability to hold moisture and nutrients. After six months of sitting in a pile, shredded leaves become crumbly, pure, black gold, which requires no screening.
Why do shredded leaves work?
Leaves fall to the ground and decay in forests, bringing nutrients and beneficial fungi to the understory, where ferns and other shade-loving plants grow. Can’t you just “feel” that springy forest soil beneath your feet? By shredding your oak leaves, you simply help nature do her thing more quickly.
I use my two trusty rakes and the roomy thirty-gallon HardShell® Kangaroo® Gardening Container for smaller jobs. I like a larger leaf rake for the lawn and a more narrow shrub rake for the beds, as it can maneuver around established plants. Both of my rakes are composed of aluminum, which is lightweight and doesn’t warp or rust if I accidentally leave a tool outdoors.
We also use a large leaf shredder for larger jobs that fits on the back of our riding lawnmowers. Yes, it’s pricey, but we only replaced it once in 35 years, and I live on a property covered in trees.
Yesterday, while I planted bulbs, Bill worked hard to get the leaves up off the grass and shredded them in a pile for me to use later.
You can also dump your leaves into a large, heavy-duty plastic trashcan. Wear safety glasses and a mask, and use a string trimmer to shred them. It works better if the leaves are a bit damp to keep them from blowing in your face. If you don’t want to use the leaf trimmer idea, you can mow over shallow leaf piles and collect them in the bag attachment. You can also use a mulching mower and leave them on the grass.
Plus, several of the leaf blowers on the market can also shred leaves. This blower/shredder from Worx is also battery-operated.
These leaf piles break down and are used throughout the garden in every season. Incorporate leaf mold with the soil in a planting hole, and plants seem to settle in sooner and thrive. Also, a layer of it on top of seeds in the spring encourages germination.
So, don’t put your leaves in trash bags when you rake them this fall. Instead, keep them out of the landfill and use them for their original purpose to improve the soil in your garden. If you do, just consider the bounty from your garden a pat on the back from Mother Nature herself.