Autumn Leaves Make An Excellent Organic Fertilizer & Great Garden Mulch

by Polly

450lovejoy02Every fall, Mother Nature delivers her bounty of autumn leaves that make an excellent organic fertilizer & great mulch in our gardens.

Fallen leaves contain up to 80 percent of the nutrients that a tree absorbs during the growing season. When allowed to decay on the ground, leaves return their store of nutrients to the soil. In the soil, they’re reabsorbed by the roots and channeled back to a new season of growth.

If you don’t use the annual bounty of leaves, you miss the opportunity to add a rich, natural source of organic fertilizer to your garden. And,

Money does grow on trees. You need to get those leaves off the lawn, so why not save money in the process?

The leaves from one large shade tree can easily be made into compost or mulch equal to $50 worth of plant food and humus, according to Clean Air Gardening’s Compost Guide.

The University of Florida found that “good yields of such crops as cucumbers, tomato and greens can be expected after 2 to 3 years of applications of at least 20 tons of oak leaves per acre annually.” That’s a little under 1 pound per square foot per year.

A number of trees common in the Seattle area – including Japanese maple, beech, alder and birch – have small or delicate leaves that break down quickly. Tougher leaves such as oak, London plane and horse chestnut take longer to decompose.

Leaves from maples and fruit-trees are some of our favorites. Scientists have found that autumn leaves from maple and oak release natural phenols during the first 6 to 8 months of the rotting period. These phenols inhibit growth of seedling roots, but rot and disappear from soil and mulch within 9 months of weathering.

Leaves of the black walnut tree are an exception due to the presence of juglone, a chemical that inhibits growth of many plants.

While walnut roots and hulls cause most of the problems, the leaves also contain smaller quantities. Avoid using leaves collected from under black walnut trees as garden mulch.

Here’s how to get the most from your leaves:

  • Shred the big ones with leaf vacuums/shredders. You can use a lawn mower to shred dry leaves.
  • Use them as summer mulch. Thin layers of leaves will keep the ground cool, hold in moisture, and stifle weeds.
  • Use them as winter mulch. Piled around garden plants, they provide protection for the roots in winter.
  • Use them as a soil amendment. Mix partially decomposed leaves into the soil to improve its texture and quality. They build topsoil or humus.

Want to know more about autumn leaves in the garden?

Post a  question or a comment below, please. And,

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Yours truly for a great garden with  flowers,berries and veggies

Polly – Organic gardener

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one } November 10, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Fall leaves are wonderful. I think I got carried away this year with leaves. I have a large cold frame 6 X 8 and I filled it with mulched leaves. Last year I filled it 1/4 with chopped leaves and the worms loved it.

Living here in the mid-west my cold frame with all the mulches leaves stops the ground from freezing in the cold frame. I think this allows the worms to work overtime. Leaves are wonderful!

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Marilyn March 13, 2012 at 6:27 pm

after burning leaves are they good for flowers,roses,etc…..?

Polly March 14, 2012 at 12:15 am

You mean ashes?

Barbara March 21, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Most of the leaves here in this area in CT., are oak. the soil is very sandy. Will the leaves help if put in the soil during the springtime each year or will too much destroy the soil? Putting in about 50 large bags of mixed leaves to about 1/2 of an acre. Also what about pine needles in the soil? does it help enrich or destroy the soil?

Polly March 21, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Pine needles make soil very acidic. That’s why they are good for azaleas, rhodes, blueberries and strawberries.
Oak leaves bring a lot of nutrients & warms to your sandy soil

Melissa June 11, 2012 at 12:30 pm

We moved into a house that had a huge pastiche garbage can full of autumn leaves and water. Winter showed up and we just left it as is. Now it’s spring…leaves are rotting & have been moved to compost bin. I have a garbage can full of rotten leaf juice…can I use this as fertilizer? I think they were maple leaves.

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