Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Fall Leaves: Shred Before Use

20151003BIt’s he-re! Temperatures have dropped, frost is in the air (and has already hit some gardens), leaves are changing color: there is no denying fall is happening right now. Soon those leaves will be dropping off the trees… and as a good citizen of planet Earth, you will necessarily be recycling the fallen leaves.

Leaves are often referred to as “gardener’s gold”. They are so rich in organic matter and minerals that they can easily replace expensive (and polluting) fertilizers. You can add them to your compost (or set a few bags of them aside for next year’s compost pile), you can apply them as mulch to your flower and vegetable beds (or you can mix them into an existing mulch), you can simply toss them into a wooded area, etc. What you don’t want to do is to just throw them away.

But if you want your leaves to decompose well, you’ll need to shred them first. Okay, this is less of an issue for small leaves (leaves of black locust, crabapple, birch, etc.), but large ones (leaves of Norway maple, red oak, etc.) cause problems if they’re left intact. They tend to clump together to form an impenetrable barrier, for one thing. Plus, leaves that are left entire tend to blow around and annoy neighbors who might not be as eco-friendly as you are. Shredded leaves, by some miracle of physics, do not clump together, nor do they blow around (apply them, water once to settle them, and you’ll see what I mean). Oak leaves cause their own special problem: they are notoriously slow to decompose if you leave them as is. Chop them into tiny pieces and they change completely, decomposing in a matter of months.

20151003The easiest way to shred the leaves is to simply spread them on the grass (if they are not there already) and mow them. Yes, with your lawn mower. The mower will shred them into tiny little pieces, just the right size for the compost bin and for mulch!

And yes, you can use diseased fall leaves in the compost and as a mulch, in spite of where some municipalities claim. Read here for more information on that subject.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

1 comment on “Fall Leaves: Shred Before Use

  1. Pingback: Shredding Leaves with a String Trimmer | Laidback Gardener

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