Confessions of a Leaf Thief
Some people think that the proper way to tidy up the yard for fall is to rake or blow every single leaf into giant brown bags from Home Depot, said bags to be taken away by the city. This makes me insane.
I mean, what a waste. Good soil needs organic matter. Leaves turn into – yes! – organic matter. So why would you throw out all your leaves as if they were garbage and then buy extra bags of compost, peat moss, and fertilizer?
In my garden, leaves that land in the beds and borders are allowed to stay there. The rest are divided three ways: some go on the compost piles, some are spread under shrubs and trees, and some are left in an out-of-the-way pile over winter, to be used as mulch the following year. (Full disclosure: I also do buy some mulch, composted manure and mushroom compost – but I buy less because I use my leaves.)
It used to be I wasn’t satisfied with only my own leaves. I was on a one man mission to ensure that our neighborhood leaves should not fall in vain. I started by asking my immediate neighbors if I could have their leaves, and they were gracious enough to agree.
Even so, every time I saw bags of leaves piled up in the alley or on the street I was reminded of the inadequacy of my efforts. So I turned to stealing.
I would get up early in the morning and sneak down the alley, grab leaf bags and drag them back to the house. Or if I drove past leaves left on the curb, I would pull over, check if the coast were clear, and throw them into the trunk. Then I’d speed away as if I were Pretty Boy Floyd after a bank robbery.
Eventually I tired of this life of crime. For one thing, there’s really only a finite number of leaves I can use in my modest suburban lot, especially after my garden started filling in. Second, whole leaves make a good mulch in woodsy areas at the back, but can be problematic in flower beds.
You have to be careful that young plants aren’t smothered, especially by the bigger leaves. Also, robins and other birds love to hunt for bugs among the leaves, which is great, but in a flower bed that can mean half your leaves end up on the grass.
It’s generally recommended that you shred leaves before using them as mulch. This is not an option for me, however, as I am unwilling to buy either a shredder or a power lawnmower (I have a reel mower).
Anyhow, I gradually lost my drive to Save The Leaves. Now I’m back to using only the leaves that fall on my own yard. Still, when I see bags of leaves piled up like trash, I feel a faint stirring.
Have you ever been a leaf thief? What do you do with your leaves?