Sacramento Digs Gardening logo
Sacramento Digs Gardening Article
Your resource for Sacramento-area gardening news, tips and events

Articles Recipe Index Keyword Index Calendar Twitter Facebook Instagram About Us Contact Us

Fallen leaves: Turn mess into mulch!

Brown foliage needed for compost, too

various brown leaves on concrete
With extra help from the strong winds recently, leaves are starting to accumulate.
Use them for mulch or compost. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

There’s a reason they call it “fall.”

Recent windy conditions brought down an avalanche of leaves in my yard – the first big dump of autumn. With every gust, more leaves rained down, coating the patio with a blanket of gold and brown.

I know I’m not the only one in the City of Trees with this annual dilemma: What to do with all those leaves?

Start by thinking like Mother Nature. It’s not a mess – it’s mulch!

Trees drop leaves, in part, to keep their roots cozy in winter. The fallen foliage also replenishes nutrients in the soil.

Dropped leaves on the patio aren’t doing my trees any good. But as mulch or compost, those cast-off leaves will benefit the trees and the rest of my garden, too.

Smaller leaves, such as birch, pistache or elm, make excellent mulch as is; just rake and place 2 to 3 inches deep around trees and shrubs.

Or chop larger leaves with a lawn mower (a couple of passes usually is sufficient) and use as mulch. It will last through the winter, keeping down weeds while retaining even soil moisture. Some waxy leaves, such as magnolia, may take several seasons to break down.

One note on turning fall foliage into mulch: Don’t use any diseased leaves. If the foliage is showing signs of mildew or other fungal disease or pests, discard it in the trash – not the green waste or your garden. Otherwise, you’re recycling problems along with the leaves.

Brown redwood needles
Fallen redwood needles can be used as mulch for azaleas
or camellias.
It’s not just deciduous trees dropping leaves right now. Coastal redwoods also are shedding a lot of browned needles.

Although they’re evergreens, coastal redwoods are susceptible to drought. Those browned needles are signs of stress. Consider having an arborist check the tree’s health.

Meanwhile, those browned needles make durable mulch, especially for acid-loving shrubs such as azaleas or camellias.

Add fall leaves to your compost pile, too. Plus save some for later.

Dried leaves are a necessary ingredient in compost. To promote rapid breakdown in compost, an even amount of “browns” (dried leaves, straw or other dry ingredients) are mixed with “greens,” such as freshly cut grass, spent vegetable plants or kitchen waste.

While dried leaves are plentiful now, come spring they’ll be in short supply. So, bag up some brown leaves to add to your compost pile in March or April to keep it “cooking.”


0 comments have been posted.

Taste Spring! E-cookbook


Find our spring recipes here!

Newsletter Subscription

Sacramento Digs Gardening to your inbox.

Thanks to our sponsor!

Be Water Smart

Local News

Ad for California Local

Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

Contact Us

Send us a gardening question, a post suggestion or information about an upcoming event.