Fallen leaves are often overlooked as a beneficial addition to the garden.

Cultivated Garden column — Don’t throw leaves away

In this instalment of her gardening column, Shirley Eppler writes about uses for leaves that have fallen in and around your garden and lawn

SHIRLEY EPPLER

Special to The NEWS

Nothing announces a change in the season more than falling leaves.

Who doesn’t have a memory of jumping in a freshly raked pile or kicking up big maple leaves on a trail through the forest, collecting the biggest leaf you can find and pressing it in a book? While fall can bring back childhood memories, it also signals gardeners that it’s time to put the garden to bed and prepare for a long winter of gazing at garden magazines and scouring the seed catalogues.

Fallen leaves are often overlooked as a beneficial addition to the garden. A lot of us were brought up with the view that neat and tidy is good and everything has to be in its place. In the garden we tend to want to control it all, to clean up what we see as being unsightly. Our anxiety level increases as we watch leaves drifting down on our picture perfect landscape. Mother Nature thinks differently and she’s been doing this for a lot longer than any of us and doing it quite successfully.

When left alone, leaves fall off the tree to the forest floor where they decompose and become part of the earth, conditioning the soil and adding a layer of protection. Leaves also increase and help maintain colonies of beneficial organisms, fungus and bacteria which in turn create a healthy environment for plants. Earthworms love leaf mulch, too.

When we rake up all the fallen debris and leave bare, exposed soil Mother Nature will inevitably fill it up with something and more likely than not it will be with weeds.

A leaf mulch will help suppress weeds, aid in erosion control, insulate the soil and retain moisture. When we remove this protective layer we disturb the natural balance of the garden.

If you absolutely can’t stand the natural look of leaves left lying where they’ve fallen in the garden there is a way to use them and still gain the benefits later on. You can rake up all the leaves and either pile them in a corner or use a wood or wire bin about three feet wide and tall. Let them decompose over time, adding water through the drier months to keep the break down going. Turn the pile once in awhile with a pitch fork. Once the pile has turned into a nice, crumbly leaf mold (sounds bad but it really isn’t) then you can either spread it on the garden as mulch or dig it in.

If you don’t have a bin or don’t want to commit to something semi-permanent for a season or two then another method is to use a large garbage bag with a few air holes punched along the sides. Check it for moisture periodically also as you need the leaves to be moist to help the process. I haven’t tried this personally but have been told it works.

Large leaves tend to break down more slowly and can sometimes form a mat on the ground or in the pile. If you have a mulching mower then run it over the pile of dry leaves a few times or toss them in a shredder. The more cuts in a leaf the more quickly it will break down. Even just scrunching dry, brittle leaves in your hands will help.

Either method will take about six months to a year to break down completely. Don’t be afraid to use it earlier if you can’t wait that long, it doesn’t need to be broken down fully to be beneficial. If you’re not growing a winter cover crop in your vegetable garden then use the leaves there.

So this fall let nature take its course and in turn she will reward you with healthier soil and less work weeding.

— Shirley Eppler is the owner of Cultivate Garden & Gift at 609 East Island Hwy. in Parksville.  E-mail: shirley@cultivategarden.com

Just Posted

Qualicum Beach Hemsworth Road Trailway Project begins

Trail closed until construction is complete in Septmeber

Downtown Youth Ambassadors back in Parksville lending helping hand

Jose Hope and Jared Walmark hit the streets five days a week to help tourists, residents

DayPass transit program gets passing grade

RDN review shows initiative reduced conflicts and increased revenues

Parksville senior donates money from condo sale to Brazil for school

Giancarlo Chitto donates close to $435,000 to help build educational facility

Heat warning issued for Vancouver Island

Temperatures expected to cool down later this week

VIDEO: Visual recap of Vancouver Island MusicFest

Walk Off The Earth, Passenger, Arlo Guthrie among highlights

Hawaii volcano boat tours continue after ‘lava bomb’ injuries

“An explosion occurred near the shoreline hurling hot lava rocks towards the boat and injuring several passengers.”

Trump returns from summit with Putin to forceful criticism

“Shameful,” ”disgraceful,” ”weak,” were a few of the comments. Makes the U.S. “look like a pushover,” said GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee.

Obama to deliver Mandela address in likely rebuke to Trump

Former U.S. President Barack Obama Monday praised Kenya’s president and opposition leader for working together but said this East African country must do more to end corruption.

Trudeau asks transport minister to tackle Greyhound’s western pullout

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s asked Transport Minister Marc Garneau to find solutions in Greyhound Canada’s absence.

Missing B.C. Serval cat creates buzz online, pleas for help

Aquila, an African Serval, disappeared from a Fernie, B.C. backyard sometime on Friday, July 13.

Trudeau’s youth council divided over Trans Mountain pipeline purchase

A letter signed by 16 past and present members was made public today, asking the federal government to reverse course

Hulk Hogan reinstated into wrestling Hall of Fame

Hogan had used racial slurs caught on video when talking about his daughter sleeping with a black man

Island wide crime spree leads to multiple charges against Cowichan Valley resident

Social Media and citizens of the North Island played a big role in solving the case.

Most Read