Leaf Gathering & Storage

November 28, 2006

A recent question was raised regarding the best method to gather and store leaves for use in the garden or for making compost.

Common, ordinary leaves are a very valuable resource for the home gardener and nature’s way of mining and cycling nutrients from deep underground and delivering them to the soil’s surface.

Free Organic Matter for the Taking

Unfortunately many homeowners and gardeners neglect to follow nature’s example and fail to convert their own leaf reserves into free garden fertilizer and soil conditioner. In my neighborhood many people simply rake their leaves out to the curb where they are collected and carted away by the municipality for composting. That is an improvement over the days when leaves were burned or treated as garbage.

But you won’t find a single leaf awaiting collection in front of my house, instead they’ve all been gathered, shredded, and stored for use as mulch or as an important component for building compost piles. If you have trees on your property or in your neighborhood be sure to take advantage of this rich source of organic matter and fertile nutrients.

Labor Saving Leaf Gathering Techniques

Leaf Collection Equipment PhotoThere are a number of options that can be employed to collect and gather the fallen leaves, depending on your energy levels and the size of the job that you’re faced with. First there’s the low-tech method involving a rake and lots of muscle. This technique is preferred only by the kids that enjoy jumping into the huge piles after all the hard work has been completed.

The modern, time saving leaf collection method involves an electric or gas powered leaf blower that can be used to both gather and shred large quantities of leaves with very little effort required from the homeowner and gardener. This is the technique that I use to clean up all the leaves that cover my yard during autumn.

Other labor saving ways to gather leaves include using lawn mowers with bagging attachments to collect and chop the fallen leaves. Then there are leaf sweepers and even large commercial leaf vacuums that can be rented for those gardeners with tons of leaves covering vast expanses of ground.

Leaf Storage Made Easy

When it comes to storing and handling leaves the best thing that you can do is to shred them first! Shredding the leaves will make them much easier to handle, allow you to store them in a smaller amount of space, and will also speed up the decomposition process when the leaves are applied to the garden or used in making compost.

Once shredded the possibilities for storing your organic leafy matter are almost endless and will vary depending on your situation. Dried leaves can be bagged or placed in large containers for storage over the winter without the worry of them blowing away, just take care that you don’t create a combustible hazard if the leaves heat up in storage.

Another simple alternative is to incorporate the shredded leaves right into the garden beds with a garden fork or tiller during the fall months. Or mulch vacant beds with a thick layer of leaves that can be removed or tilled under in the spring. You can also insulate your garlic beds and other fall vegetables that are being over-wintered with a blanket of shredded leaves.

Creative Leaf Storage Ideas

If you have empty compost bins at this time of the year they can be used to store your supply of leaves over the winter until it’s time to assemble your compost piles in the spring. You can even construct makeshift leaf corrals by using snow fencing, straw bales, or ordinary garden fencing material.

In sheltered spots you may be able to get away with merely forming a huge pile of leaves in an isolated section of your yard. Or create the leaf pile and use a tarp, garden netting, or landscape fabric staked to cover the leaves and hold them in place. Pits, trenches, and gullies can also be used to store leaves or serve as a place for the leaves to fully decompose and turn into leaf mold before removal and application in the garden.

Photo of Leaf Storage PileLook around your landscape, with a little imagination I’m sure you’ll discover new and creative ways to store and use all the leaves that you can get your hands on. For example, I have an elevated children’s playhouse that stands behind the garden. I fenced in the supporting posts at ground level so that I can use that area for leaf storage and composting.

Let me know of any ingenious and creative ideas of your own that you come up with for gathering and storing those leaves that will become a valuable gardening resource next season.

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  • Thanks Kenny! You are always so great about answering questions. I love your blog.

  • Joe Mikitish

    I have a large garden and have convinced the local municipal trash service to send out a notice along with the early autumn bills asking the folks in the older part of town (they have the largest/most mature trees) to bag their leaves in biodegradable bags and set them in the alleyways. I spend most of my November weekends picking up these bags of leaves and running them through my shredder. I usually gather enough to mulch my garden in the winter and store enough to add throughout the year as needed. Needless to say, my worm population has exploded.

    Another hint: Spread coffee grounds mixed with finely crushed egg shells prior to adding the mulch to keep the slugs/snails away!

  • Greg

    Where space is limited, a simple solution is to place your leaves in the tomato garden for the winter. In Denver, which has a sunny and relatively mild winter, it’s possible to make a leaf pile in the tomato garden, mix it with the dead tomato plants, add some coffee grounds from time-to-time, turn once a week, and presto… mulch in time for summer planting.

  • Lani

    Here in Australia, most local councils have a ‘green’ pickup – for leaves etc. In Perth many of the local councils will shred it on picking it up, and you can arrange for it to be dropped off to you if you want it (or collect it if you want from a depot).

    It’s largely trees and similar – so very chunky mulch – but in our dry drought affected sandy environment it’s great coverage for the larger areas and eventually breaksdown.

    One truck load dropped to a friends place a few months back (late summer here) was steaming and well over 50degrees C within a day or two, when we started spreading it over her front yard.

  • Erik

    I have what is probably a fairly typical composting situation – between grass clippings (just a small section where loose grass tends to end up in the pool) and kitchen scraps, I tend to get a lot of “green” stuff to compost. Here in New Jersey, it’s not really too much of a problem early in the season because I usually have a large stockpile of uncomposted leaves to balance the green in my compost pile. But later in the summer, when the leaves have been used (and/or composted by themselves), I have too little “brown” material to keep the compost balance right. I’ve been mixing the greens in with the existing compost and turning more frequently but the pile gets too wet and it’s tending toward too wet.

    Do you have any suggestions on how to handle the late-season composting? Do I just toss the additional green material to the side and let it ferment until the leaves start to fall?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Erik, I collect every leaf that I can find in the fall and store them over the winter to use the following spring and summer in the compost pile. If you plan ahead and keep it dry you can also turn some of your “green” matter like grass clippings into “brown” matter. Straw can also be obtained in most areas and can be mixed in with your surplus of green composting materials.

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  • Doug

    I just took 4 shipping pallets (free from craigslist), wired them together into a big 4X4 box, dumped in the leaves, and covered with cardboard. Also added some horse manure and coffee grounds, so even in February the thing is nice and toasty, though it was heating up even before that addition.

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