As my neighbors rake up their leaves and tip them into their yard waste bins, I am out and about raking and bagging leaves from wherever I can find them, and bringing them home for my flower beds and shrub borders.
Most of the trees near me are Big Leaf Maples, and their leaves are just too big, and too slow to break down, to form a highly desirable mulch. So instead I keep a mental inventory of arterial roads planted with mature trees with smaller leaves, such as the beautiful ash trees on 35th Ave NE in Wedgwood, currently turning a gorgeous purple. Last year I collected mostly oak and Norway Maple leaves, and I still have a half bag left that I never got around to spreading. When I open the bag it has a hauntingly sweet smell, so enjoyable that I go down to my shed now and then just to inhale it.
I am far too lazy to make wire cages to hold my leaves, and turn them every two weeks as recommended, so I take the lazy way out – piling the leaves directly onto the bed and letting Mother Nature, and the worms and bugs, do all the work. And I am happy to say that our Garden Club’s most recent speaker, a keen young horticulturist named Patrick Kennedy, also endorses this lazy approach to making leaf mold – the old fashioned term for breaking leaves down into pure leaf compost.
Alternatively, if you have a shed or garage, or some sort of sheltered spot, you can stack your paper bags (not plastic) full of leaves and let them break down inside the bags for future use.
Covering your garden beds in leaves is also the single most useful thing you can do to make a welcoming environment for birds, according to another Garden Club speaker who talked to us about gardening to attract more wildlife. The leaves support a greatly increased population of bugs, and bugs are the favorite food of birds. And it always greatly entertains me to see the spotted towhees hopping up and down as they scrabble in the dried leaves to look for food.
So don’t send off your leaves to the yard waste facility and then buy them back again in spring once they’ve been turned into compost. Keep them at home, where they will keep weeds at bay and enrich your soil without any further effort or expenditure on your part.
Jacqueline Houston is a member of the Wedgewood Garden Club, and also a Master Gardener of King County. She has been gardening in Seattle for over 30 years. Wedgewood Garden Club always welcomes new members – contact Jacqueline at email@example.com for more information on our monthly meetings.