What does one do with all the leaves?

Leaves raked onto the garden will protect the garden over winter and add to the soil if left the following year as a mulch. John Zvirovski / The Sun

Raking leaves is one of the main tasks we think about during the autumn season. Some of us have more of them and others have less, but just because you don’t have a great deal of trees does not mean you won't get large amounts in your yard. We have an element in our area known as the wind that tends to disperse equally among everyone. I believe we all view this task in a different way. Some of us will see it as a chore while others will see it as a mind-cleansing event. Others may even see it as an opportunity for fun, but that all depends on the mindset.

I actually look upon raking leaves as something that is enjoyable. It gives me a chance to look around, see how the yard is looking and it keeps me on track for other tasks that may arise. Often many of us wonder what we will do with all the leaves that we accumulate. Most often I see people taking truckloads away to the drop-off in town where they do away with them from there. I don’t believe I have ever personally bagged any leaves in my life to eliminate from the yard, as I always have a use for them.

Leaves in my yard always go back into the garden setting to feed the soil for the following year. For me, I get a double benefit from the leaves. Since I typically rake them over the gardens that are most exposed to the winter cold, I can place them directly into these areas. Usually these can amount to a couple feet worth of leaves. The snow during the winter months will typically press this layer down to about three dense inches of insulation to protect the perennials and spring bulbs from potential frigid temperatures. The second benefit I get out of these leaves is that they act as a mulch for the following year in the garden, preserving moisture and keeping extra weeds at bay. One thing you have to keep in mind when you are working with a layer this thick is that you have to clear them away from the plants that will emerge in spring, otherwise they will stress to get through. Typically this leaf layer will be long gone by mid-July, as the insects and worms help decay them and bring them into the soil to make for a better growing foundation.

If the lawn is your thing, you have a few options for these leaves. Once the leaves have fallen, you can put the bagger on the lawn mower and essentially vacuum up all these leaves for disposal. Maybe they go into your own compost pile or maybe they get hauled off to the city compost. Another option is to mow them into the lawn a little at a time as they fall. A mower can shred a light layer of leaves nicely into the lawn in which it will not get smothered and will feed the roots of the lawn as they decompose.

Another good use for leaves is to rake a heavy layer over your garden and then put a layer of soil over them to decompose through the winter. Once the snow is gone and the soil has dried enough to work up, simply till this layer into the soil which will cause your new seedlings to grow very well into the coming year. With vegetable gardens, this can occur each year and is a good use for all those excess leaves while providing a benefit.


Leaves can help protect newly planted trees and shrubs also from the cold. Place a fence of some sort around the plant you want protected about 3 feet up and fill it in with leaves. This adds a little insulation for the roots during their first year of winter, which is always a good benefit. If you are one of the few people who enjoy growing hybrid-tea roses, this a great practice to get them through from one year to the next.

I have seen some people stuff leaves inside clothes to make artificial people or other displays to set in the yard during both autumn and winter. Of course, this takes a little creative edge in which some people have more than others, but I have seen some very unique ideas.

Whatever your use is for leaves, there are many options available to us. Whether we use them or discard them is a choice all our own. Whatever you do with them, make sure the work involved in collecting has a little joy in the process. As kids we always loved to make piles and jump into them. Once we were done, then we made use of them or bagged them for takeaway. If there is still a little child left in you, take a time out to jump into your work and if you have a family, make it an annual event like making snow angels in the winter season.

Hopefully we have a little autumn left to enjoy the season further. Keep in mind we lose an hour of daylight this weekend, so don’t forget to set your clocks back an hour otherwise you will be an hour early for everything for a little while. Trust me, this happens more often than you think ... take it from someone who knows!

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