Turning Trash Into Treasure
By Paul James
Carrie and I have a motto: No leaf leaves the property. That’s because over the years we’ve learned that nothing has the ability to transform so-so soil into super soil better and faster than leaves. Seriously. Nothing. But it’s best if you shred them first so they’ll decompose faster. Here’s how we do just that.
In the lawn, we simply mow the leaves with a mulching mower, and it does a great job of shredding the leaves into tiny particles that break down quickly, releasing nutrients and adding valuable organic matter to the soil. We do this over the course of three weeks or so rather than waiting until all the leaves have dropped to prevent the mower from bogging down.
We use a blower that converts to a shredder with a leaf bag attached. It’s great for getting leaves out of garden beds and corners, and for sucking them right off evergreens, barberries, and other plants that have a tendency to catch leaves. The leaves get chopped up into fine particles, ready for use in the garden. For details, go to https://www.stihlusa.com/products/blowers-and-shredder-vacs/shredder-vacs/.
Our dedicated leaf shredder is a workhorse. It’s basically an electric motor that uses a weed trimmer line to get the job done, reducing 11 bags of leaves into just one. You fill the hopper with dry leaves, and once shredded, they drop into an attached bag or onto a tarp. See it at https://www.worx.com/electric-leaf-mulcher-wg430.html.
String Trimmer and Trash Can
This is a fun and very effective way to shred leaves. Just fill a trash can with leaves (the drier the better), and stick your string trimmer into the can as though it were an immersion blender to make a soup or sauce.
(By the way, when shredding leaves, protect yourself from dust by wearing a mask — shouldn’t be hard to find! — and protect your eyes with goggles. Ear protection is a good idea too.)
Quite by accident, we discovered a fairly effortless way to shred leaves — we let our dogs do the work for us! We have a chain-link fence on one side of our backyard that faces the street. Our dogs love to run back and forth along the fenceline when our neighbors walk their dogs. As a result, grass won’t grow there, so we decided to pile leaves along the run so our dogs’ feet wouldn’t get muddy. To our surprise, within a month or so the dogs shred the leaves, which we simply scoop up and use.
So what do we do with all our shredded leaves? Roughly half of them go into our raised beds in the vegetable garden. We add about a three-inch layer to each bed and let them rot over the winter. By the following spring, the leaves have decomposed into what’s called leaf mold, which is the best soil amendment money can’t buy. We sprinkle each bed with about two pounds of blood meal (which is pure nitrogen) to speed up the decomposition process.
The rest of the shredded leaves go into the compost pile, and they too decompose by spring. The finished compost gets added to the raised beds, as well as ornamental beds and containers.
You can use shredded leaves as mulch in ornamental gardens, but on windy days they may blow away. To keep them in place, cover them with bark mulch and they’ll decompose fairly quickly beneath the bark.
So rather than bagging your leaves and tossing them into the trash, think of them as treasure. You’ll be amazed at the difference they make in the health of your soil…and your plants.
Happy gardening, ya’ll.
8 responses to “Turning Trash Into Treasure”
Back to Blog