ISSUE 94  |  Change in the Weather

Gardening 101: How to Use Fallen Leaves

September 30, 2014 5:00 PM

BY Michelle Slatalla

Everybody knows that the absolute best use for fallen leaves is to rake them into a high, crunchy pile in the middle of the lawn and then jump in. Second best? Use fallen leaves as mulch. Here’s how:

Photographs by John Merkl for Gardenista.

Need to know: Deciduous leaves are packed with the same minerals as fertilizer you buy. Use leaves as mulch in garden beds: it prevents weeds, encourages worms, and makes heavy soil fluffier.

Keep it simple: You can mulch two ways, with shredded leaves (if you have, say, a lawn mower) or whole leaves.

If you don’t have a mower or shredder, mulch with whole leaves. Spread a thin layer of leaves in garden beds so water still can penetrate to plants’ roots.

Step 1: Rake leaves into a pile.

Step 2: To mulch with whole leaves, use a pitchfork to spread a 1-inch layer evenly around the roots of plants.

Step 3: To make shredded mulch, rake leaves into a long row about a foot wide. Then run a lawn mower over the leaves, back and forth, a few times. Spread a 1-inch layer of shredded leaves around the roots of plants.

 Need a sturdy rake? See two of our favorites at High/Low: Steel Rake.

Working through your list of autumn chores? See our Gardening 101 archives for How to Draw a Garden Plan and How to Plant a Bulb.

N.B.: This is an update of a post originally published October 24, 2013.