Can we rake leaves into beds for mulch?
Let’s put our leaves to work on our garden beds instead of hauling them to the curb! Some gardeners worry that they’ll tie up soil nitrogen as they decompose.
And yes, as the microbes break down the plant material and incorporate it into the soil, they also use nitrogen, effectively taking it away from your plants. But in most home gardens, this would never happen to the extent of causing problems for your plants.
When we use bark and wood mulch at other times of year, those are high in carbon as well. It would really take a lot of carbon to cause a problem in your soil, so there’s no cause for concern.
Using leaves is a great, cheap way to protect the soil as we move from autumn into winter. If you have a mulching mower with a detachable bag, you can mow the leaves up, both collecting them and cutting them into smaller pieces. Although it isn’t necessary to mow them, mulched leaves will break down more easily, becoming a part of your soil more quickly. But you can also just rake the leaves into garden beds, piling them up near the base of trees and shrubs and completely covering perennials, which should be cut back to soil level at this time of year.
Adding organic matter is the best way to break up heavy clay soils, and the leaves that fall from your trees, or blow into your yard from your neighbor’s, are absolutely free.