Dead or fallen leaves are rich in carbon, phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen sources. Microbes decompose these dry leaves to release nutrients into the soil.
Raking leaves is so tiring and time-consuming. What if I say to leave the dead leaves to turn into organic matter?
Not just me, but many experts recommend reusing dry, dead leaves in the garden to fertilize your plants.
This is because, every year, 13 percent of solid waste in landfills is from fallen leaves and grass clippings. The waste is broken down to produce methane gas that negatively impacts the climate.
But are they good for your garden soil?
Yes, dead leaves are good for the soil, as they can be used as mulch and increase the water retention ability of the growing medium.
After decomposing, fallen leaves are converted to nutrient-rich organic matter.
Though experts say to leave the leaves in the garden, a thick layer of dead leaves around the plant can be problematic for your plants.
Don’t worry; there are enough ways to use dead leaves to enrich your garden soil.
For instance, you can add fallen leaves to the compost bin. It ensures the compost pile has a balanced green and brown material ratio.
Why Are Dead Leaves Good for Soil?
- Adding shredded leaves to your garden increases water retention ability and enhances soil structure.
- Nutrients like carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur are housed in the dead leaves, which benefit the garden soil.
- Apart from adding nutrients, dead leaves add organic matter to your garden, thus increasing microbial activity.
Cleaning gardening is one of the tiring works that most gardeners have to face. But, instead of burning dead leaves, you can reuse them to fertilize your garden.
As homestead gardeners, we are responsible for reducing the wastage that negatively impacts the climate.
As mentioned, most landfill waste releases methane gas that contributes to ground-level ozone.
Next time, instead of tossing fallen leaves, you must shred them into small pieces so that they quickly decompose to give back nutrients to the soil.
Don’t worry if you’ve loads of fallen leaves. There are plenty of ways to reuse dead leaves to benefit your garden.
Before that, let’s check the nutritional ability of dry leaves.
Are Dead Leaves Good Fertilizer?
Yes, dead leaves can be used to fertilize your plants after decomposition.
50-80 percent of nutrients the plant absorbs from the soil end up in leaves. Composting fallen leaves will break down nutrients and give back valuable nutrients to the soil.
Falling leaves are the starting point of the natural decomposition process.
Dry leaves are a great source of carbon; when combined with nitrogen-rich materials like grass clippings or kitchen scraps, it eventually makes the garden soil fertile. The decaying process is popularly known as composting.
As they are free, I don’t think any gardener would toss them and spend bucks to buy chemical-incorporated fertilizers.
If your garden needs a bag full of leaves, ask your neighbour. They will happily pass out bags of fallen leaves at zero charge.
But dead leaves should be broken down into plant-absorbable nutrients, which you can do by composting them.
Dry leaves contribute carbon material to your composting bin. It helps to balance the nitrogen and carbon ratio to provide nutrient-rich compost for the garden.
Note: Nutritional ratio of fallen leaves depends on the plant species and the percentage of other organic material you included in the compost.
Nutrients in dead leaves may not be sufficient to fulfil your garden’s nutritional requirements, but they benefit your plants with organic matter and traces of nutrients that can’t be ignored.
You can use dead leaves around the plants as mulch, not just fertilizer. The different ways to benefit from these leaves are mentioned below.
How to Use Dead Leaves for Garden?
Fallen leaves are inexpensive to provide nutrients and trace minerals to your garden soil.
It improves soil structure and increases the water retention ability of the sandy soil; when used as mulch, it protects plant roots from extreme temperatures and helps to balance the nitrogen ratio in the compost pile.
5 Ways to Reuse Fallen Leaves to Benefit Your Garden Soil
Try only some of these ways to use dead leaves. Instead, choose any way depending on the volume of leaves and space you’ve and how long you can wait.
Composting is my favourite, so let’s start with it. Then, we shall deal with other ways of reusing fallen leaves.
1. Composting Dead Leaves
Are dead leaves good for composting?
Yes, in most cases, dry or fallen leaves can be used to compost. It adds organic matter and carbon material to the compost pile.
How to compost?
The traditional way is to dump dead leaves along with nitrogen-rich materials into a bin, maintain moisture, and wait for months.
Otherwise, you can chop dry leaves into small pieces to speed up the decomposition process.
- Add equal volumes of carbon and nitrogen materials.
- The moisture of the compost pile should be 50 percent.
- The pile temperature should be, at most, 160 degrees F. Otherwise, helpful microorganisms will be killed.
- Turning the compost pile regularly to improve aeration and avoid overheating.
- You can expect the nutrient-rich compost in weeks.
You can check compost in a hurry here.
How to use it?
Either spread the well-rotted compost around the plant or add it to the plant hole while planting.
2. Add dead leaves directly to the garden
Instead of leaving the leaves, a few gardening experts recommend shredding them into pieces. It provides a habitat for microbes and earthworms and helps suppress weed growth.
Having a thick layer of leaves around the plant can turn dangerous.
Shredded leaves release nutrients into the soil with time, improving the growing medium’s water retention ability.
Tip: Shredded dead leaves can make your potting soil mix for houseplants.
3. Mulching – turn dead leaves into mulch
Leaves fall in autumn; if you leave the leaves without raking, they can protect your plant from harsh winter.
- It can also be used to suppress weed growth.
- Lock moisture for a longer time and regular soil temperature.
- It avoids soil erosion and improves the nutritional ability of the soil.
- As dead leaves are biodegradable waste, they turn into organic matter.
4. Insulate Root Vegetables
Besides locking moisture and regulating heat, dead leaves protect root vegetables like carrots and leeks.
Collect fallen leaves and spread them around root vegetables.
5. How do you make leaf mould with dead leaves?
Leaf mould is partially decomposed leaves that can reduce soil erosion and increase the water-holding capacity of the growing medium.
Though not a rich source of essential nutrients, leaf mould benefits the plant with calcium, magnesium, and other trace minerals.
Leaves undergo a decomposition process through fungal activity.
The obtained material after decomposition is just rotten leaves that can be used as mulch, in compost, and to improve soil structure.
- Rake dead leaves in a bag and add water or urine to fasten the fungal activity.
- Punch a few holes in the bag so that extra water drains out.
- Now, leaves start to rot over time, and you’ll get leaf mold for your next season.
Do Dead Leaves Make Soil Acidic?
The pH of most leaves is below 6; they are slightly acidic. However, after breakdown or decomposition, most likely, they have a neutral pH.
So it won’t impact your soil pH. But, conduct a soil pH test and add limestone if the soil is acidic.
Mixing dead leaves into potted plants: Good or bad?
Adding too many leaves to potted soil can result in nitrogen deficiency because microbes use nitrogen in the soil for decomposition.
Thus, nitrogen deficiency can result in the yellowing of leaves due to reduced photosynthesis.
However, adding leaf mold or composted leaves can improve the draining ability of the soil and avoid overwatering issues in potted plants.
To mix dead leaves into a potted plant, shred leaves into small pieces so the decomposition process is fastened.
Regularly conduct soil tests to determine the nutritional ability of the soil.
Add nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer to balance the deficiency caused by microbes.
Can You Put Fallen Leaves Straight into Soil?
Yes, you can leave the fallen leaves in the garden soil.
However, a thick layer of leaves isn’t good for plant growth. Gardening experts recommend lawn mower to shred leaves.
Small leaves decompose quickly and will be able to release nutrients into the soil.
Adding composted leaves is a good idea, as it will benefit the plant immediately.
Importance and Benefits of Keeping Fallen Leaves Around the Plants
Picking up fallen leaves around the plants isn’t good gardening advice.
Most gardeners rake dead leaves and toss them to landfills, where they are converted to methane, which pollutes our environment.
Just think about a wild forest that is raking those dead fallen leaves. Aren’t they converted into organic matter that gives back nutrients to the soil?
Similarly, you should mimic nature’s decomposition process in your backyard to be a successful homestead gardener.
Below are the benefits of dead leaves for your garden soil.
- Natural mulch for your plants: Leaves start to fall in autumn, leaving the leaves around the plants to shield them from cold winds in winter.
- Fallen leaves can be habitat predators of slugs and snails. Leaving dead leaves in your garden attracts frogs, beetles, and slow worms that feed on slugs and snails.
- Adds organic matter to your garden soil. As dead leaves are biodegradable, they decompose to organic matter.
- It helps to create a wildlife ecosystem in your garden.
- Suppresses weed growth. Spreading a thin layer of leaf mold around the plant can prevent the growth of weeds.
- Insulate plants from extreme temperatures. Composted leaves in the garden help to regulate temperature and protect the plants from cold.
- Prevents soil erosion.
- Increase the water retention ability of the soil. Dead leaves help lock moisture for longer and avoid underwatering issues.
- Reusing dead leaves is the most economical way to fertilize and mulch your garden.
How Do Dead Leaves Help the Growth of Plants?
Dead leaves decompose and release nutrients into the soil. Though low in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, rotted leaves contribute nutrients and minerals to the garden.
Raking dead leaves is tiring, but leaving them in the garden can benefit plant growth.
After decomposition, fallen leaves can include organic matter in the soil, thus improving its structure and water retention ability.
Spreading leaf mold around the plant acts as a mulching agent and regulates soil temperature.
Dead leaves attract beneficial microbes that improve soil aeration and foster a balanced ecosystem.
Reusing dead leaves as a sustainable resource to enrich soil enhances plant vitality and promotes environmental sustainability by reducing the need for external inputs.
You can add leaves to a compost bin or make leaf mold in compostable bags.
Khaja Moinuddin, a computer science graduate, finds joy in gardening and homesteading. Join him on this blog as he shares his experiences in homesteading, gardening, and composting