Preparing For Winter: Using Leaves as Mulch

Even as I type that blasted word on a day that is certain to reach into the 60s, I know that winter is around the corner. While I love warm weather and start counting down the days until I can leave the house without a jacket as soon as my hangover eases on New Years Day, I recognize – and have been trying to embrace – winter. Despite the deep chill I feel from November until mid-March, I realize that I need winter’s break to catch up – on housework, writing and eating the food I’ve been freezing and canning and storing since late spring. And I must admit, that once my semester got under full swing by late September (and my first batch of 100 papers to correct kept me in the house on a beautiful fall afternoon) which coincided with the peak of the farmer’s market and farm share bounty (thus lessening the need to shop from my own plot) my garden and yard began to feel a bit neglected. I am trying to remind myself that I need winter’s break to become excited again and reassess what worked this past season and prepare for any new projects.

But winter isn’t here yet. As I noted it is nearing 60 degrees for perhaps the last time in 2010 and I must put aside the correcting and planning and spend some time in my yard. Luckily my husband and I have been busy and, well, a bit neglectful of the fallen leaves in our yard. After an initial clean-up a few weeks ago, we now have a new covering to be dealt with before they turn brown and damp and unsightly. I plan to rake into a pile and use some of it as mulch.

First however, I will tend to my raised bed and container planters in the back yard. Most containers have been emptied of their dying or dead tomato plants, and stored to the side of my (very small) back patio. However, I will bring in my horseradish roots – cutting down the large leaves and storing them in a basement entryway covered with mulch where they will stay a bit warmer than if left out in the open. I’ll also cut back the oregano, chives, thyme and some sage, rosemary and lavender and dry them all in my dehydrator to add to my spice cabinet and give away for holiday gifts. I have had spotty results overwintering the woody herbs – they need to stay relatively dry, so mulching isn’t always the best plan. I’ve done some research this year and plan to experiment with mulching the roots to keep them warmer, but not completely covering the plant. My lavender has (surprisingly?) been the heartiest thus far, so I hesitate to do anything to it, as my neglect seemed to work well last year. Hence, my first experiment of the winter – determining how mulching affects my raised bed plants come spring. I came to this plan via recent…

Leaf Observation: have you ever been as lazy as I and left a pile of leaves along, say, the edge of your driveway for the winter? And then finally got around to cleaning it up some spring? And noticed that the leaves have started to turn into what appears to be dirt? Well I plan to focus that natural dirt-making process by using leaves liberally this year to surround the roots of my perennials and even cover some veggies that I am going to try and overwinter (like carrots and potatoes).

The Brief How-To: In my research, many places note that leaves should be shredded to break down quickly enough as mulch. Well, I don’t know about you, but the only shredding tool I have is a paper shredder (although a lawn mover can be used as well). My leaves will stay whole. However, I will spread them thoughtfully around the base of my cut-back plants, as they will keep everything beneath them quite damp. Also, come spring I will add slow-release nitrogen fertilizer to help restore the ph of the soil from the composting leaves. And when I start to see some shoots of green in the spring (I can’t help myself! I just can’t wait for that day, just four months from now!) I’m going to help clear the way for the ground to warm up and spring to start showing itself, so I’ll give a light rake and pile up the top layer of leaves that didn’t have time to break down over the winter. They should take about a year to fully return to dirt, so perhaps I’ll make a little leaf compost pile in the shadiest corner of my raised bed and see what comes of it.

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2 thoughts on “Preparing For Winter: Using Leaves as Mulch

  1. Pingback: Leaf Cover In Action « Locavore in the City

  2. Pingback: Winter Potatoes « Locavore in the City

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