Autumn’s Leaves Are a Gardener’s Gold

November 17, 2010 | By | Comments (8)


There are three things Grumpy can count on happening every year in late November.

+ The Detroit Lions losing yet again in a traditional NFL contest on Thanksgiving that pits two sorry foes who don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of making the playoffs, but it’s cold outside so we watch anyway.

+ All of Judy’s family vying to see who can escape from hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the relatives. The competition is fierce and the stakes could not be higher.

+ The neighbor’s tree inundating my yard with a tsunami of slimy, brown oak leaves that threaten to smother both the grass and my cat. (Why can’t they just smother the squirrels? I’m down with that.)

I can’t stop the Lions from losing (it’s amazing what a team can accomplish when they dedicate themselves to a single goal). And I can’t stop Judy from considering having Thanksgivng dinner at the Cracker Barrel (who knew pecan pie and apple pie taste EXACTLY the same?) But I can put those slimy, brown oak leaves to good use. And so can you.

Free Organic Matter! Did You Hear That? Free!

Hydroponics aside, you can’t grow good plants without good soil. And no matter if your soil is mucky clay or worthless sand, the best way to improve is to add lots and lots of organic matter. Organic matter improves soil drainage and aeration, increases storage of moisture and nutrients, and makes things cozy and comfy for earthworms and microbes that stir and digest the soil and make its nutrients available to plants. Organic matter is brown gold.

So Stop Being So %^&*@#+ Stupid!

Do you bag your leaves? Do you rake them to the curb? Are you, in other words, a certified cretin? Leaves are a great source of organic matter. And they’re free! Why throw away good, free stuff in favor of peat moss, composted cow manure, and shredded bark from the garden center that costs money? Hello? Is there anybody home?

There’s something else besides tossing out good, free stuff that should make you suicidally guilty. Bagged leaves that should enrich the soil instead get tossed in landfills, WHERE THEY WILL NEVER DECOMPOSE. If you’re OK with that, I say we should bag you and put you out by the curb. In 200 years, people will marvel at how you still have hair.

Smart Alternatives

+ Move to one of those enlightened communities that collects fallen leaves and composts them for their citizens. Or harass your own community into doing it. Composted leaves don’t wind up in landfills. They wind up as soil amendments in local gardens. Heck, I bet some smart guy can figure out a way to turn fallen leaves into biofuel.

Shredder+ Use an electric leaf shredder to turn leaves into mulch for your garden. Of all the mulches Grumpy’s used, finely chopped leaves are the best. They look great, they stay in place, they enrich the soil as they decompose, and the’re frickin free!!! The Flow-Tron LE 800  worked well for me. It shreds leaves using nylon line like a weed-whacker. True, it won’t chop sticks, it works so-so on pine straw, and clogs quickly if you use wet leaves. But chopping dry leaves is a breeze. The Flow-Tron comes with legs, but I mounted mine atop a trash can. In no time, I had a trash can filled with finely chopped leaves to mulch my beds. The fact that it’s electric means is starts quickly every time. You can order this baby from for $129.99.

Just one thing — you can’t use this to get rid of a body like they did in “Fargo.” (Well, you could, but it would take approximately 27 years and innumerable line replacements to do the job.) Use a bonafide chipper instead. That’ll work. You betcha. Be sure to use protective eyewear and a surgical mask. Wouldn’t want you to catch anything.

+ Too cheap to splurge on a shredder? You can always chop leaves using your mulching mower. This works pretty well, although I’ve found that you need to empty the bag fairly often so that the leaves will be chopped uniformly.

+ If power equipment scares you, you can still avoid being a eco-terrorist. Gather your leaves in these new biodegradable mesh bags that are fully compostable. They’re cleverly named “dsolv,” and if you go to their dsolv website, you can listen to some lovely guitar music and chirping birds while they show you how the bags work. (By the way, the promo shot below makes the bags look 12 feet tall. They’re not. The girl is obviously only a foot tall — probably from eating leaves all of her life.)


Made from a plant-based polymer, each lightweight bag holds about 45 gallons of leaves. The starter kit contains 8 bags and costs $19.99. A set of refill bags costs $6.99. If you have mountains of leaves, you’d probably get off cheaper buying a leaf shredder, but hey, it’s your choice.

Promise me one thing, though. If you buy these compostable bags, don’t put them out with the trash. Even a compostable bag (including its contents) won’t break down in a compacted landfill where there’s no oxygen. Throw the bags on your home compost pile.

Now go stuff your face with turkey. It’s time to watch the Lions lose.






  1. chipped bark

    Tree leaves do not have large amounts of nitrogen but are affluent in minerals which will be returned back to the soil during decomposition.

    April 18, 2011 at 3:12 am
  2. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Indio, they’ll be be so happy to have you as a neighbor.

    December 6, 2010 at 10:39 am
  3. Indio BBQ Grills

    Great idea to use the neighbors leaves a compost. I’ll have to start thanking them for replenishing my soil haha.

    December 2, 2010 at 4:33 pm
  4. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Oak leaves have plenty of tannic acid, so they do acidify the soil to some extent. The effect would be restricted to the top few inches of soil, however. Pine straw also acidifies the top soil. Acidification could cause pink hydrangeas to turn blue or purple. I don’t think the application of either could harm plants in general, as they add organic matter to the soil as they break dowm.

    November 24, 2010 at 6:57 am
  5. Henry H.

    Steve just curious if you have heard of oak leaves over-acidifying a soil?????
    I’ve had people who leave their leaves down as mulch around hydrangeas and other plants and say either the hydrangeas slowly changed color or the other plants slowly declined. I confirmed that we didn’t have “mulch volcanos” (a whole other topic indeed…) but didn’t hear much else that could have had this effect in their description. Just curious if you have ever heard this????

    November 23, 2010 at 3:06 pm
  6. Grumpy Gardener aka His Excellency

    I think you ought to sell goats. They eat anything and then you can eat them.
    You must be strong and fight this pernicious trend. The fate of the world is in your hands. No pressure or anything.:)

    November 23, 2010 at 9:29 am
  7. Liz Davenport

    Found your blog under Crepe Murder. The wife of one of my neighbors has topped their two crepes, which are about 10-12 yrs old. There was a movement in our development to plant as many as crepes as possible. Now this yahoo may have started another trend. Stupid Texans will follow each other’s leads.

    November 21, 2010 at 3:19 pm
  8. Jim Long

    Half of my leaves go in the compost, a fourth to the chickens for keeping their feet warm in winter, and the rest go into the goats space. They are the only animal I know that will eat its own bedding. By spring, the goats will have eaten and composted the leaves. Why would anyone give away their leaves? They’re too useful.

    November 18, 2010 at 11:39 am

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