Steele: Falling leaves free gift to the garden

Small maple and birch leaves are my favourites as they decompose quickly without being shredded.

The killing frost the night of Nov. 10 ended our lovely, long autumn.

It’s definitely time to finish outdoor tasks as snow could start to fall any day now.

Good soil and mulch are two cornerstones of xeriscape/water-wise gardening. Fall is the perfect time to load up on free materials to make compost for improving soil next year or to mulch gardens and turf.

There’s a bounty of fallen leaves—and so many uses for them.

Here are some suggestions:

Do the final lawn mowing and leave shredded leaf/grass clippings on the lawn to rot and rebuild the soil.

Leave small leaves where they fall in garden beds to form a natural mulch.

Rake mounds of leaves around tender plants to provide some winter protection.

Pile leaves thickly over root vegetables and leeks to keep the ground from freezing so they can be dug as needed through winter. You may need to secure the leaves by placing wire over or around them.

The ‘protection’ leaves can be layered into the compost bin in spring.

Make leaf mould by spraying water into yard waste bags of leaves. Fasten them shut and leave overwinter (preferably in a sunny place). Next spring you’ll have chunky, nutrient-rich, leaf mould to dig into garden soil or use as mulch.

Earthworms may even grow in the sealed bags.

This form of soil amendment and mulch is very effective in helping to hold nutrients and moisture, especially in fast-draining, sandy soil.

It’s important to use coloured or black bags. Leaves don’t seem to decompose in clear plastic.

An alternative is to make a big pile of leaves—moistening layers as you make the pile. Then cover with a coloured tarp and seal around the edges with wood or rocks to keep the pile moist over winter.

For larger leaves and some garden debris, composting can be speeded up and volume drastically reduced by shredding with an electric mower.

Alternating layers of leaves and smashed Halloween pumpkins will make great compost for next spring.

Rake up and send all walnut leaves to the landfill compost. They contain a compound that inhibits growth of some plants.

Recently on my neighbourhood walk, I was excited to spot many bags full of small maple and birch leaves. They are my favourites as they decompose quickly without being shredded.

I’ll be filling up my trusty little car and hauling them home to make more compost.

I save some bags of small leaves to layer in, each time kitchen scraps get added to my black composter.

Without the leaves (dry material) being added there is just a slimy mess next spring, not good compost/soil.

Another way to use kitchen green waste is to dig a trench in an empty vegetable garden, then dump the fruit and vegetable scraps into the trench and cover with soil.