12 Different Ways to Use Fall Leaves in the Garden

Every year, you have an abundance of fall leaves you can use in your garden if you know how to use them.

Fall is just around the corner, and with fall comes tons of leaves. Our backyard has several large, maple trees, and autumn brings heaps of leaves in our backyard. Besides jumping in them, I’ve found several ways to use fall leaves in the garden.

Those leaves make a serious mess in my backyard and probably yours. It’s tempting to rake them up and toss them away, forgetting they ever covered your yard. As much as dead leaves in your yard may seem unappealing, Mother Nature provides for us. So, if you are considering making some leaf piles, bagging them up, and tossing them up…


Instead, let’s look at how those leaves can work for you.

Related: Persephone Days: How to Calculate Your Fall Garden

Why You Should Use Fall Leaves in the Garden

Fall Leaves in The Garden

Autumn leaves are full of trace minerals that the tree pulled up from deep within the soil to sustain the tree. Adding those leaves to your garden will release those minerals into your garden soil over time as they decompose. Leaves are a natural source of several minerals, such as:

  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium

Believe it or not, a large tree produces twice the mineral content of manure. This is an excellent source of organic matter for your garden that improves your overall soil structure.

You can expect a large tree to generate around $50 (or more with today’s inflation rates) of plant food and humus you could – and should – utilize!

Earthworms love fall leaves and beneficial microbes that call your garden their home. Leaves can lighten heavy soil and help other soil types retain soil moisture. They’re a great natural source of nitrogen to help boost your soil throughout the growing season.

If you have a compost – all gardeners should have one! – fall leaves are your best friend. They’re a much-needed carbon source needed to balance the nitrogen in your compost. If you have a stinky compost, toss in fall leaves!

Here are other reasons why adding fall leaves to your garden is a great idea.

  • Leaf humus lightens heavy clay soil.
  • Leaves increase the moisture retention of dry, sandy soils.
  • You can use leaves as mulch in your garden.
  • Leaves will insulate tender plants from the cold, protecting them from frosts.
  • They are a carbon source necessary to balance out the nitrogen in your compost pile.

Sadly, yard waste takes up a lot of space in landfills. Too much of the waste we generate is organic and will decompose naturally in our yards, if we allow them to do so.

Shred The Leaves Up First

Fall Leaves in The Garden

Before you actually use fall leaves in the garden, you need to shred them up into smaller pieces first. You can use a mulching lawnmower or a leaf vacuum mulcher. You could find a manual way to shred them up as well.

Shredding the leaves is an important step because it will take too long for the leaves to break down over the winter. Then, you’ll spend your springtime raking them out of your garden.

Plus, a mat of whole leaves in your garden isn’t a good thing. It’s a breeding ground for diseases.

A Word of Caution

Some leaves aren’t suited for use in the garden. You don’t want to use walnut, eucalyptus, and camphor laurel leaves. All of these leaves contain substances that stop plant growth.

Never pick up bags of leaves that others put out on the curb. It’s tempting because, hello, free leaves for your garden.

However, you have no idea what type of leaves are in the bags, and you don’t know what they sprayed on their lawns or if they had garden pests and diseases.

If you want more leaves, speak to your friends or neighbors. Most people will save their leaves for you.

10 Ways to Use Fall Leaves in the Garden

Fall Leaves in The Garden

1. Add Leaves to Your Compost

Perhaps the easiest way to use fall leaves is by putting them in your compost pile. Fall leaves are a carbon-rich, brown material, so they can help to balance out a compost bin with too much nitrogen.

A compost bin that has too much nitrogen becomes stinky. You’ll quickly notice something is off. This is easy to do in the summer and spring when you have tons of grass clippings to add but little carbon-rich items.

Aim to alternate layers of shredded leaves with green materials that you typically add to your compost piles, like veggie scraps and grass clippings. Turn the pile when you want, and you’ll have finished compost by the spring.

Related: 15 Composting Tips for Beginners You Need to Get Started

2. Mulch Your Garden Beds

Shredded leaves are a free mulch that can be used in flower beds and your vegetable gardens. They are one of my favorite mulches; I use them yearly.

All you must do is add 2-3 inches of shredded leaves to the garden beds. Make sure you keep the leaves from touching the stems and trunks of the plant.

Using leaf mulch in the garden is important! A few benefits of mulching include:

  • Retains moisture in the soil
  • Regulates the soil temperature, keeping it cool in the summer and warm in the spring and fall.
  • Suppresses weed seeds from germination
  • Feeds the soil as the organic mulches decompose.
  • Feeds the earthworms and soil microorganisms.

Leaf mulch acts as a soil amendment, spreading minerals and nutrients through your garden soil at different rates. Just make sure you shred the big pile of leaves into small pieces to allow the leaves to decompose faster.

This is definitely one of my favorite ways to use fall leaves in the garden; it fully takes advantage of season’s most abundant crop. Plus, leaves make an attractive mulch. Native plants and vegetable gardens alike benefit from this natural mulch.

3. Mow Over Them to Feed Your Lawn

Sometimes, we’re busy – I get it. I have four kids, so I’m the queen of busy – seriously.

If you can’t find a way to use the leaves in the garden, mow the leaves when you cut the grass and leave them on your lawn. There is no reason to bag up your leave and grass clippings.

My secret to a green lawn is – we never bag our grass clippings. They decompose rapidly, so the weird look goes away within a day or two. Grass clippings decompose back into the soil, feeding the lawn with vital nitrogen needed for proper growth.

Leaf litter improves the soil in your lawn, so you’ll end up with a lusher lawn. If possible, use a mulching mower with blades three inches high. Mow once a week while the leaves are falling because this will help the leaves break down over the winter, improving the soil.

If you can’t get a mulching lawnmower, you can use a mulching blade on your older lawn mower.

4. Save Them for The Spring

You don’t have to use all the leaves in the garden immediately. I like to save as many of my spring leaves as possible in bags. When spring rolls around, I can find plenty of ways to use them.

The springtime means plenty of green materials for your compost, but you’ll be hardpressed to find carbon materials. Having shredded leaves on hand will keep your compost bin going properly.

You can use them for mulch in your spring garden. Any of the ways you can use the leaves in the fall, you could use them in the spring if you save them for later.

5. Make Leaf Mold

No, leaf mold isn’t actually a mold. I would never tell you to put a mold in the garden.

To make leaf mold, rake the leaves into a pile. You don’t have to shred them, but the process goes faster if you do. Within 1-3 years – yes, you need to be patient – fungus breaks down the leaves, creating a unique compost called leaf mold.

Leaf mold is unique because it has tons of calcium and magnesium, both of which are necessary for a healthy garden. It also retains 3-5 times its weight in water. In fact, leaf mold rivals peat moss for moisture retention, and it doesn’t come at that insane price tag!

6. Insulate Tender Plants & Root Crops

A great way to protect tender plants from the winter cold or a springtime frost is by using shredded leaves. Add a 6-inch layer of shredded leaves around the plants to insulate them from frost.

You can cover cold-hardy root vegetables with leaves. Carrots, kale, leeks, and beets benefit from insulation, and you can harvest throughout the winter if the soil is insulated.

Depending on where you live, some root vegetables can stay in the garden beds for an extended time. You can harvest and use from your garden beds, like a built-in

7. Improve Your Garden Soil

Once shredded, you can add those fall leaves right into your garden soil. Mix them up well and wait.

By the following spring, your soil will be rich with earthworms and beneficial organisms that will give boosts to your plants. It’s a simple, yet effective, way to boost up the soil in your garden beds. I do this every year with my raised beds!

If you decide to add leaves directly into your garden soil, consider adding a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer as well because it helps the leaves decompose. You don’t want the soil microbes using all of the nitrogen before spring gardening!

8. Create a Potato Bin

Growing potatoes in small spaces don’t have to be hard. Many people make a cylindrical wireframe, line it with newspaper, fill it with compost and other organic matter, then plant their seed potatoes.

Fall leaves are the perfect foundation for a potato bin. You can make the frame now and start to fill it with fall leaves. By the time spring comes along, the leaves are partially decomposed. Toss in some compost and soil, and you’ll be ready to go!

You can grow potatoes in a small space with a potato bin. All you need is a cylindrical wire frame lined with newspaper and filled with organic matter. Then, you plant seed potatoes inside of the bin.

Related: 8 Best Fertilizer for Potatoes for Bigger & Better Harvests

9. Create a Lasagna Garden

Some people call it lasagna gardening others call it layer gardening or even sheet composting. No matter what you call it, the method is the same.

Gardeners pile layers of organic matter on top of the soil and wait for it to break down. Then, they plant a new garden in it. You don’t have to use a rototiller or build raised beds.

Fall leaves are a great sheet composting material, and they’re free and easy to find. You can also use layers of manure, untreated grass clippings, cardboard, straw, shredded newspaper, and more.

10. Make Pumpkin and Squash Rings

Another way to use fall leaves is make several rings around 12 inches high out of chicken wire. These hoops are great for growing pumpkins and winter squash in the next season.

Make the rings, fill the rings with leaves, and throw in some soil from your garden. Once the leaves decompose, add some more compost in the spring and plant three to five seeds per ring in the spring.

I often struggle with squash bugs, and making these rings have helped eliminate the pests for me.

11. Mulch Your Perennial Plants

Make sure you shredded leaves purposefully for mulching your perennial plants. It’s so easy to forget to mulch your asparagus or rhubarb plants!

Mulch your perennial beds each autumn, and you’ll find that the beds require less maintenance during the spring. The weeds won’t be as plentiful, and the soil will have a boost all ready for the upcoming growing season.

For example, asparagus plants love fall leaves in the garden. Most often, gardeners keep asparagus plants separate because they are perennial. If you mulch with fall leaves, the plants have to be watered less. So, spread a two-inch layer of leaves over the beds!

12. Leave the Leaves for the Wildlife

Sure, fall leaves in the garden help us, but they also help the wildlife. Leaving these in your garden and yard provides winter cover for a variety of wildlife, such as:

  • Bees
  • Moths
  • Butterflies
  • Snails
  • Spiders
  • Arthropods

Dead plant material is excellent protection from the cold weather and predators. Many butterflies overwinter on dry leaves!

The best way to do this is to create a leaf pile or two, letting it break down naturally. It’s best to leave them whole rather than shred up, and in the spring, don’t rush to remove leaves from your garden bed.

Did you know there are so many creative ways to use fall leaves in the garden? Don’t let these go to waste; make sure to use up this resource to its fullest potential!

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    1. Yes. I rotate bins. Once I have mine filled to a certain level, I leave it to decompose, turning and watering here and there, and fill up the next bin. Now, if you want to purchase a compost bin, some have slots at the bottom that let you shovel out the finished compost instead of watering.

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