Weekend Tip: Save the Leaves–and Your Neighbor’s too!

Wire Leaf Bins and Metro Composter

At one point we had two Norwegian maples trees in our yard. Every fall they dropped truckloads of leaves everywhere. After we had our leaf pile fun, it was a hassle raking them out to the curb for the city to get them sometime during the winter. Then I was introduced to permaculture. Ever since then not a leaf escapes my property–and I take my neighbor’s too. Where do they go? I feed them to the trillions of microbes that inhabit our property. And they happily munch on them all year.

Now both trees are gone. So I scavenge for leaves in my neighborhood, intercepting as many as I can on the way to the transfer station and dump them in the five wire bins I have stashed in strategic locations around the property.

Here are four ways to use all those leaves to improve the health of your landscape.

Compost Carbons

In compost speak, fall leaves qualify as browns or carbons. When making additions to your compost it is necessary to add equal parts browns to your greens, i.e. is nitrogen rich kitchen waste or lawn clippings. This will keep your compost cooking and keep it from going putrid and smelling bad. A wire bin near your composter is handy. When mine was about ten yards away, I kept putting it off for that elusive next time, no next time…


I cover all bare soil with leaves in the winter. Not only does it protect the soil from compaction and the nutrient leaching effects of our rainy winters, it feeds the worms and microbes. They will thank you by creating rich, loamy soil for spring planting. Read more about winterizing.

New Beds

Fall is a wonderful time to establish new beds and leaves can help. To smother turfgrass, I like to lay out a layer of cardboard. Then perforate it with my digging fork. Next goes a layer of leaves, raw compost, another layer of leaves then a bit more compost to help hold the leaves in place when the wind whips through.🌬🍂 Then come spring I have beautiful soil to plant into. Read more about this in the November calendar.

Leaf Mold

When leaves break down they become gardeners gold. This dark, rich, crumbly material makes a wonderful mulch. It is nutritious for the soil, retains water like a sponge, and regulates temperature.

It takes two years to break down so my system works like this: Add fresh leaves to the of the bins burying whatever is left over from last year. Then, I take from the top when feeding compost bins, winterizing, mulching, and establishing new beds. When I want to use the leaf mold, I push the bin over and scoop from the bottom. Usually pretty wormy 🪱 in the layer between the leaf mold and fresh leaves…FYI.

Notes on Leaves

  • Don’t save leaves from fruit trees. Fruit tree pests often overwinter in their host’s leaves. Also decline leaves from roads or that may have pet poop in them.
  • How you collect them matters. I recently invested in a battery powered leaf blower. Here’s why I love it.
  • Many of our favorite insects, including butterflies and moths, overwinter in leaves. Keeping them helps ensure your backyard ecosystem running smoothly. 🦇🐦🪱🐛
  • Don’t mow them to chop them up, because you’ll also be chopping up our insect friends.
  • It’s super cute watching the birds kicking them around as they forage for insects.

Your Turn

How do you use leaves in your landscape? What about conifer leaves?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: