When I think of Autumn, rich reds, bright yellows and robust orange leaves come to mind. Although beautiful, autumn leaves can become a hassle to clean up. Instead of throwing the leaves in the trash, rather make the most of them – help your garden grow or beautify your home. Autumn leaves can become your ally and you’ll soon start to appreciate what they can do for you in the long run. In this post, we focus on five different eco-friendly ways to recycle Autumn leaves, from composting to mulching and more.
Compost is a gardener’s best friend – it helps keep your plants lush and beautiful by providing a huge nutrient boost for your plants. At its most basic, compost is simply decaying organic matter. But instead of shelling out a goodly sum for a few bags at your local nursery, try making your own!
Over winter, most home composters gradually lose their balance of nitrogen and carbon. Kitchen scraps, high in nitrogen, are added regularly all through the winter. But carbon-based materials are less plentiful in winter. When the compost gets out of balance, the composting process slows down as the materials settle, losing aeration, until the compost becomes cool and soggy. Leaves are an easy available source of carbon for your compost. By adding leaves gradually, you’ll avoid having them clump and mat together which slows down their decomposition. If you want to add a lot of leaves to lighten a soggy compost pile, then turn them in with a spade or so the leaves don’t mat together. Shredding your leaves first will help them break down quicker in your compost pile – this can be as simple as running over them with your lawn mower. After about two months, it should resemble dark soil and have a pungent and earthy aroma, letting you know it’s ready for your garden.
It’s easy to confuse mulch with compost, and many people do. Whilst compost gets mixed in to help enrich your garden’s soil, mulch is primarily used as a layer on top, like a blanket for insulation purposes, and to retain moisture and reduce the growth of pesky weeds. Leaves are ideal as winter mulch because they are light and fluffy, which adds insulation value, whereas heavier mulches compress and become soggy, providing less warmth.
If you have ‘over-winter’ crops in the garden, it is even more important to mulch to keep the soil surface from freezing in cold snaps and to avoid frost damage to the ‘shoulders’ of root crops. If carrots, beets and other roots vegetables are damaged by frost, the rot starts in the damaged areas but soon spreads to the rest of the roots. Spreading fistfuls of leaves on top of your veggie and flower beds helps to keep the roots happy! Once the mulch starts decomposing into compost, it needs to be replaced with a new layer.
Fireplaces can be lovely for those nippy Autumn evenings. Instead of using firelighters to get a blaze going, try the eco-friendly route and make your own tinder from Autumn leaves. When raking up your leaves, put them in an airy bag and store them in a dry and cool place. Once they have dried out, take a handful each time you want to start a fire, it being a convenient and eco-friendly alternative to firelighters. The burning leaves will add a fragrant aroma to your home; an added benefit.
Add some colour and warmth to your interior with a beautiful home-made wreath from your discarded leaves. Real leaves are environmentally friendly and come in a vibrant palette of colours. This is also a great way to entertain your kids – letting them hunt for the best specimens not only lets them enjoy being outdoors before the real winter weather sets in, but also gives them a fun and creative project to do indoors when it does.
Make sure you have a base to work with – a wicker ring is perfect for this kind of project. You’ll need a glue gun and some choice twigs and seed pods which you’ll space out however you like, using different colours for a great visual effect. Attach the finished product to your door or over your mantelpiece to bring some beauty from your garden into your home.
Add a gentle, natural scent to your home with DIY potpourri. The smell of dried leaves adds a fragrant dimension to the rooms in your house. Make sure your leaves are completely dry before crumbling them up into natural, mesh bags, and add a cinnamon stick and some cloves for a spicy Autumn aroma.
You can house your potpourri in a decorative wooden bowl or tied in a small fabric sachet in your cupboard to make your clothes smell fabulous.
What are some of the ways you like to use your leftover leaves? I’d love to hear all about it!
Happy Autumn gardening everyone!