HOORAY!! It’s nearly time for you to start raking leaves for me again!
For many years leaves have been one of my major gardening resources. I never rake them myself, so I much appreciate the effort that others put into collecting them and, knowingly or not, making them available for me to help dispose of. There are many ways I provide this help and, depending on your yard and garden, some may be relevant to your gardening activities. So let’s look first at how I collect them, and then at how I use them.
FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS are the preferred sources for leaves. You can be sure they are pesticide-free, that the bags don’t contain other unwanted rubble and you have more flexibility in when you pick them up. I have a friend whose custom was to put raked and mowed-over leaves in plastic garbage bags and haul them to the dump, 40-50 bags each fall. In return for my giving him the bags and picking up the filled bags from by his garage, he sorts them as he fill the bags and calls me when he has a load for me to pick up. I have different uses for the two kinds of leaves; the plastic bags let me winter them over for use the next spring and summer; and I then reuse the bags for hauling my non-compostable waste to the dump.
I have two neighbors who shared use of a box trailer to haul their leaves to a place where they paid to leave them, only during its open hours of course. They are delighted to bring them to my close-by yard at a time of their choosing, and they enjoy that pleasure about four times each fall. Two other neighbors bag their leaves and leave the bags in their own yards in a place visible and accessible to me but not to the town collection truck, for me to pick up at my convenience. They’re glad to get the bags back to use again.
You probably recognize by now that unless you have access to either a vehicle with a good load space or a trailer of some sort, that leaves in quantity are not for you. You’d pretty much be limited to your immediate neighbors, but collecting them is till very much worth the effort.
CURB-SIDE PICKUP is the usual way to get leaves if you have transport. Find out when the town truck comes and make your run the afternoon before or first part of that morning. Be sure to peek in each bag before taking it, and even then you will occasionally get material you don’t want to spread around your plants. This can usually be added to your compost pile. Any non-compostable junk you get rid of with your own non-compostable garbage.
Raked leaves are great for mulch, since the weeds have a harder time getting through them than for chopped/shredded leaves. The latter are used where I’d like to have them break down faster, like on the compost pile or as bedding in our worm composters. Leaves as a mulch conserve water during the summer and can delay freezing in the fall as well as minimize the alternate freezing-thawing cycle that can be so damaging. And I sure find a lot more worms under a leaf mulch than in other places. Leaves of any sort are a great organic material to add to your garden.
Don worked as a physicist in GE’s R&D Center, retiring in ’85. He and Nancy currently revel in a new solar home. One of his main interests is gardening, where he pays special attention to many kinds of berries (and is delighted to share plants) and to shade-loving flowers and herbs, with a particular focus on ramps, ginseng and eleuthro (formerly called Siberian ginseng).