If you want to have a wonderful garden for next year, prepare now with all those fallen leaves around your house! Did you know that up to 80% of a tree’s nutrients and minerals are pulled into the leaves? Adding them to your garden is a great way to replace those nutrients back into the soil. Not only do they provide a great source of carbon for your garden, but they also provide a home for worms and microorganisms, such as beneficial bacteria and fungi. These little critters will feed upon the leaves, breaking them down and adding even more yummy goodness into the soil.
First, dig out any perennial weeds such as dandelions, thistles, and cheatgrass. These come back from overwintering roots and will reappear in the garden if not dug out. As for annual weeds like hairy bittercress, pigweed, and chickweed, layering leaves across the ground will squelch these seeds and prevent them from growing.
Second, add a healthy amount of leaves to the top of your bed. By healthy amount, I mean a good foot or two high. This is called top dressing. If you want to prevent your leaves from blowing away and help the leaves break down faster, you could run the lawnmower over them a few times to help lay them down.
The best leaves to use are ones that are high in nitrogen and calcium, while being low in lignin. Lignins are the tough fibrous parts that if too high in a leaf, can take a year or two to break down. Tree leaves best for top dressing and composting include ash, maple, fruit trees, poplar, and willow. Leaves high in lignin, and not as good for composting are: oak, beech, holly, and chestnut. Also, avoid using black walnut as this tree makes its own herbicide that will prevent seeds from germinating.
Top dressing is not the same as composting. Compost is material that has already broken down into a black soil and then been added into the garden. Top dressing is placing un-composted or freshly fallen leaves directly to the top of the vegetable bed like a thick blanket. While a well composted garden can hold an amazing 60 percent of its weight in water, a layer of leaf matter on top can hold between 300 and 500 percent of its weight in water!
A little preparation now will save you a lot of work in the spring. As much as I love gardening, I’m always down for saving money on my water bill, and less time spent on weeding! LOL! Happy Gardening!