Fall Clean-Up

How to Make a Hole in a Garbage Can in 9 Easy Steps

When I arrived home last Saturday, after a few weeks away, my deck was covered in fall leaves. Far from being annoyed by the work ahead of me, I was eager to put into action the plan I had concocted. After all, these leaves are the gardener’s brown gold. As they decompose, they become an absolutely free source of nutrients for our plants.

Wooden terrace covered with fallleaves
My terrace after a few weeks of absence in the fall.

Last year, the leaves ended up in the yard waste bags, made of thick brown paper. I sadly waved goodbye when the municipality left with them to take them to their final destination. How frustrating not to be able to reuse them in my pots and planters! On top of that, I had to buy compost to replace the nutrients that could have come from those leaves. SCANDAL!

Removing Fall Leaves… From Your Deck

After reading the article Getting Those Fall Leaves Off Your Lawn a while back, I was already thinking about buying a leaf shredder. Or a vacuum shredder (a thing of dreams!) I could already see myself lying in a pile of freshly shredded leaves, breathing in the sweet and musky aroma of decaying leaves.

In this text, we discover how to pick up the leaves that litter our yards in the fall to use them as mulch, using mowers, shredders, trimmers, even snow blowers. I don’t have any of those tools. You have to understand that I don’t live in the suburbs, but on the second floor of a building on the Plateau-Mont-Royal (an urban neighborhood in Montreal, Canada). Although my 14 ft x 20 ft deck is huge for the area, buying a tool dedicated solely to leaf shredding was unthinkable (not true, I actually thought about it, let’s just say ‘exaggerated’). Even if I had enough leaves to make it worthwhile, where would I have stored my shredder? I would have had to get rid of my ice fishing kit to have enough room in my outdoor storage space (which really is unthinkable).

A person collects fallen leaves with a broom and a shop vac.

Fortunately, I had a few ideas in mind that I will try out for your enjoyment. But first, let’s pick up some leaves! I could do it with a broom or a leaf sweeper. However, since I’m laidback, I preferred to use my shop vac. As a bonus, it gets the leaves out of every little nook and cranny. And it hardly ever gets clogged!

Why Shred?

  1. Shredded leaves have smaller air spaces and therefore take up less space than whole leaves.
  2. Chopped leaves make a better mulch because they don’t flatten out to create an impermeable layer that doesn’t “breathe” well and doesn’t let water through.
  3. Shredded leaves have more edges, and the edges give beneficial microbes more room to work.
  4. Chopped leaves don’t fly away as easily. After an initial watering, they tend to stay where you put them.
  5. Shredded leaves compost more quickly and fewer minerals are lost.
  6. There is greater air circulation and therefore less risk of slow anaerobic organisms setting up. Aerobic organisms are preferable for home composting.
A person puts fall leaves in a kitchen blender to grind them up
Can you really shred leaves in a blender? Why the hellebore not?

Method 2: The Blender

Okay, that sounds nuts! But I had done some research on the web (where you only find good ideas!) and it seemed to work. So I pulled out the blender and whispered in his ear what might have been my last words. I filled it with a few handfuls of dead leaves and off we went!

First impression: it works quite well. Sometimes you have to tamp down the leaves a bit so that the ones on top get shredded. And the result is almost perfect! The leaves end up in tiny little pieces. Only the leaf stalks (petioles) weren’t as well shredded. Second impression: it’s so long!

Shredded leaves in a stainless steel bowl
The blender method produces a very finely chopped leaf mulch.

Method 2: The Mortar Mixer

In my research, I found a few people who make sharp-ended rods for themselves that can be attached to a drill. A little too much work for me, but I found a mortar mixer that could do the same job without me having to learn welding. I attached it to my drill and inserted it into a bucket full of leaves.

Mortar mixer on a drill
A mortar mixer can easily be found in a hardware store.

The bucket almost immediately fell to the ground. I tried to hold it between my legs. It was hardly any better. And I managed to bang my ankle with the mixer: #*$?%$#!

A person attempts to shred leaves in a bucket with a mortar mixer
It’s hard to hold a boiler between your feet when using a mortar mixer.

So I put the leaves in a garbage can. Maybe its weight would keep it down? That didn’t work any better! The worst part was that the leaves were barely shredded! TOTAL FAILURE!

A person attempts to shred leaves in a garbage bin with a mortar mixer
It’s not easier to shred leaves in a trash can.

The Blender is the Undisputed Champion!

So I took my garbage can full of leaves and started shredding. One… little… container… at… a… time… After 10 minutes, I gave up. The result is excellent, but I have to be a model of laziness, right? The last thing I want to do in my garden is work hard. I have a family reputation to uphold, after all!

A person puts fall leaves in a kitchen blender to grind them up
Shredding leaves in a blender works well, but it takes time!

Finally, I put the leaves directly into my planters and pots, just as they are, and that’s the end of it. There are plenty of micro-organisms that will do the work for me anyway. Yes, it will take a little longer, but, in the meantime, I can relax on my terrace with my girlfriend and enjoy one of the last beautiful days of fall.

One person puts shredded leaves in planters
Shredded or not, I filled my planters with dead leaves. Let nature do its work!

So What About the Hole in the Garbage Can?

I had almost forgotten about the hole in the trash can. While packing my tools in my outdoor storage, I spotted the ice auger I use for winter fishing. With its two blades that can cut through thick ice, maybe it could shred tiny, delicate leaves? Makes sense to me!

MONUMENTAL MISTAKE! It wasn’t long before there was a hole in the bottom of my garbage can.

An auger placed next to a garbage with a hole in it
The culprit responsible for the hole in my garbage can.

The moral of this story? A rolling ice auger gathers no shredded leaves? Kill two leaves with one blender?

I’d say: Don’t worry about being perfect and keep it simple!

(BTW, I haven’t said my last word. I’m still looking for a way to shred the leaves on my deck).

Mathieu manages the jardinierparesseux.com and laidbackgardener.blog websites. He is also a garden designer for a landscaping company in Montreal, Canada. Although he loves contributing to the blog, he prefers fishing.

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  32. marianwhit

    Got to this one late…but love it…laughing the whole way…but the moral of the story is…experiment, experiment, experiment…so many gardeners do too much. Find the minimum effort and disruption to get the job done. More complex for you in an apartment than me. I won’t shred leaves because that is where many essential insects overwinter…that become food for baby birds in the spring. I don’t have fussy neighbors…so I don’t rake at all. The wind takes care of them for me…when June comes, the plants flourish, the grass comes up, and the leaves are gone…to fertilizer, having done their job in keeping the main biodiversity in my yard (the insects, of course) nice and cozy over the winter.

    Nature does what it does for good reasons…humans? Not so much. We do what the advertisers tell us…keep up with the Joneses, buy this machine (and annoy your neighbors no end), buy the fertilizers, the pesticides, the (non-native) grass seed (that does not stay in the lawn but invades our few remaining native areas), etc. etc. There is a jingle in my pocket, can you hear it? That is the money I don’t spend on stuff to control things outside my house. There is a smile on my face, can you see it? That is because the blackpoll warbler flew 2,000 miles mostly over water to come have a meal in my yard…it did not fall out and be eaten by a shark, but left here strong and healthy from good nutrition obtained by lots of native plants and the insects they support.

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  34. Each of my trash cans already has a huge hole in it, right on top. Otherwise, I could not put trash into it.

  35. Alan Blackwell

    You’ve got a battery drill. Why not use a battery blower? They work well in such a small space!

  36. Jt Michaels

    Adding my words of well deserved praise for the entirety of the article! Thank you, Mathieu.

  37. jessica crawford

    An ice auger in a plastic can is pretty hilarious! What could go wrong? I have used a string trimmer in same and that does work well, but pretty tedious work. I enjoyed your stop motion ? photos too. Thanks for the laugh!

  38. The hole-y can would work great as a composter. It has holes and can hold many leaves? Glad you are keeping up your dear Dad’s garden stories!

  39. Susan Mitchell

    I second ALL the comments above….thanks for making me smile this morning!

  40. William MacMillan

    Your sense of humour gave my wife and i a big lift on a dull morning. Looking forward to reading your column every morning. The first thing I turn to.

  41. Katherine Halpern

    I like to think big; I’ve found that driving over leaves in the driveway does a real good job. Any kind of car will do!
    PS Love your experiments; they augur well.

  42. I am out to buy a blender, laughing all the way

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  44. Lynda Porter

    Hilarious column. You are already doing a great job of following in your father’s footsteps. Thanks!

  45. Thank you for your experiments! I had big plans to shred my leaves this year with a lawn mower, but in the end I didn’t have time, so I just put them on a tarp and took them into the woods behind my house —
    Once the leaves are very dry, just walking on them will break them up — maybe put them into a plastic “kiddie pool” and walk on them?

    And let me just put in a plug here for the Substack website where you could also publish — it’s free for you, but you can charge a subscription fee, like $5 a month that I would happily pay as your father’s books have been so helpful to my garden. But you don’t have to charge anything at all, and most of the writer’s I follow, don’t.

    It’s also Ad-free and has a GREAT comments section that’s very easy to navigate and can be very lively. I’m able to make comments and get responses from other commenters and the Blog’s authors. It’s a lot of fun!
    Here’s an example of a blog there on Japanese Gardening:
    There seems to be a shortage there of truly quality advice such as your father’s.
    Anyway, thank you for keeping the Laidback Gardener going!

    • marianwhit

      If you have space, “windrow composting” is a great way to get rid of the leaves, feed your trees, and protect the insect life. I spread the leaves in wavy lines away from the grasses or areas where leaf accumulation or piles of yard waste might kill other plants…the shady spots around the feet of trees and dips where wind can’t blow them work pretty well..I might break up and pile sticks on top of the leaves to keep them from moving around. All year except deep snow I see birds work these areas.

    • Mary L Discuillo

      I absolutely love the kitty pool idea. Next time I clean up leaves I’m giving it a try. I guess if they are damp or still fresh one just has to wait a few days. Only problem I see if my neighbors are gonna think I’m a little nuts!

  46. So, having recently found your dad’s and now your blog (along with the other authors). I have to say that it has inspired me to do, but also to think more about reducing the number of steps and equipment out of the shed at one time. I used a leaf blower to make a pile, and a battery powered lawnmower which I would rock up on it’s back wheels and down into the pile. That kept the shredded leaves in an area where I could rake up or again use the blower and transfer to an old sheet. Cart it to the garden and lay down on a bed until I was ready to till it into to my lovely clay soil! It may sound a bit labor intensive, but I only used leaves from 2 maple trees and one birch tree and covered several beds within the garden. I laid wire fence pieces on top to keep in place until a good weather day to till in. I wish I had found your dad’s blog years ago his writing is wonderful and makes me laugh. My condolences to you and your family.

    • Paul Chilton

      I tried my lawn mower on a large pile of cuttings, leaves, twigs and grass cuttings which had accumulated in the corner of my garden over the past six months. It rapidly reduced the pile to finely shredded material caught in the mower’s bin which was easily emptied to form a separate pile. The thicker, unrotted sticks were left on the ground to be raked into a separate pile for addition to the next compost pile.
      The pile of fine material has rapidly decayed to compost.

  47. Anneclaire Le Royer

    Generally people want to ‘look good”. Your honesty is a delight! A breath of fresh air …Thank you!

  48. Granny Pat

    Hilarious! Love it !

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