With all the fallen leaves that were on our field I picked them up with my lawnmower with the pouch and them put that in my garden and worked the rototiller afterwards. I thought it would be good for the garden but then some people made me doubt.

Was that a good move or not? And why?

  • 1
    It'll be fine. They'll decompose over the winter while your veggie crops won't need the nitrogen. By the time you plant, I would expect the nitrogen to be available again. And you will probably be using an organic fertilizer to supplement if that turns out not to be the case.
    – That Idiot
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 16:11
  • On the bright side, leaves on top of the soil make it moist and attract worms, which could be good for your soil, if you could use the benefits that worms offer. I'm guessing worms eat the leaves. I'm not sure if they attract worms when they're mixed around, though, but I don't see why not, unless it's only the moisture they like. If the leaves are still there when you're planting vegetables, they may attract insects that could cause issues (like maybe cutworms, pill bugs, etc.) Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 17:39
  • The "over winter" part is Important! Commented Apr 7, 2018 at 16:01

11 Answers 11


What's done is done, but in future years, as others suggest, collect up the leaves and compost them separately, either in a contained heap or in binliner bags with holes in the bottom. Leaves should be wet, crammed in a binliner, the tops tied shut, holes poked in the bottom, then left in a corner somewhere to rot down over a year or so, by which time they will have shrunken right down to something commonly known as 'black gold'. This can then be added to your soil with, if applied in spring, a handful or two of nitrogen in some form or other. In the UK, that would be Growmore or other granular nitrogenous, but balanced, feed.

The reason you wouldn't normally allow leaves to degrade slowly on the ground in your garden, or dig in shredded or whole leaves, is because the fungi and bacteria which break down the leaves require nitrogen to function. Therefore, if you add chopped leaves directly to your soil, the activity of those organisms will increase, and remove more nitrogen from the soil in which your plants are growing, leaving less available nitrogen for plants to take up.


Leaves that have been chopped (and I am assuming this is what your mower did) can add motility but not necessarily additional fertility to garden soil. This is a good thing depending upon your soil type: humus to make the soil drain better, be a bit looser rather than compacted is good. It was long believed that leaves would raise the pH to the acid side, not always good for vegetable gardening, but this idea has been debunked. I use chopped leaves for winter mulch and it works beautifully: during the winter's rainfalls, snowfalls, freeze and thaws the leaves slowly break down and become part of the good soil mix while reducing weeds to zero. Unchopped leaves, however, can become a slithery mess, sticking together and blanketing an area that will need real work to incorporate in the Spring.

  • 1
    One last thing: in future, I would make a large bin somewhere out of sight with wire mesh or chicken wire and put all fall leaves in there as you rake them. Press them down hard. By next season you will have ready-made humus to add to your garden soil.
    – Suzanne
    Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 15:40
  • 3
    Lower the ph to the acid side... Commented Oct 21, 2012 at 2:48

I do it every year and always have great vegetable gardens. If the forest does not die from leaves your garden will not. I just till then in several times over the fall and winter then have a great garden in the spring. They will build your garden soil. I collected probably 500 bags this past year (fall 2014) and will do the same this year. They are great for your garden.

  • Just curious. How long have you followed this procedure? Do you also add nitrogen to the soil with the leaves? Commented Nov 10, 2018 at 17:12

It will probably be fine, depending on what your soil is like, but not as good as composting then adding... For all the reasons mentioned, and you have set up an ideal pest breeding ground... Millipedes and pill bugs and the like can multiply on leaf litter.

  • And if you plant tomatoes, cutworms may be more likely to fell the plants. Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 23:48

Leaves have a lot of nitrogen in them, as well as carbon. I think it's a good idea to add leaves to the garden in fall. You can just leave them on top, or dig them in.


From the research I have done, adding leaves especially shredded ones introduces leaf mold to your soil which in turn improves soil structure. This improves the soils friability and it's ability to absorb and retain moisture. So what you have done is a good thing. Compost, however, is better to add nutrients to your soil. I plan on doing both in my garden and if time allows recommend you do the same. I also experienced the added benefit of reducing soil erosion and weeds during the winter.


Absolutely! Not only do they act as a fantastic moisture barrier for underlying soil and attract earthworms, they also over time develop leaf mold as they breakdown. Adding additional organic bacteria to your soil. I use the black gold from my gutters and roof collected during the fall and garden is lush and beautiful as a result in the spring


Try using red wigglers to work the dry leaves! You will have great soil in a few months not years.




I run my mower over the fall leaves every year. I went through a process to convert to 100% organic a few years back. That was a no-till process and I have never tilled or turned my soil since. I usually get a layer 6"-10" of chopped leaves on all my vegetable beds. I try to not disturb the leaves which have lost more than half of their original loft by spring. This undisturbed layer chokes out nearly all weed growth.


I will go around every fall and offer free leaf removal. I normally just add my amendments to the soil, then cover using leafs. The leafs break down, and those that haven't by spring, I put compost and other spring amendments on top of those and work it all into the soil. I've found that the winter months tend to take a toll on soil, at least in my area. By covering my entire plot with leafs, it helps with soil erosion, nutrient and mineral degrading, and promotes/peotects the growth of beneficial microbes.

Some people will say compost first, then add. I say that whatever works for your area/situation I've been doing this for awhile, and it's worked for me.


After extensive research and six years of using the oak mulch and leaves on top of the soil here is what the universities, extension services and forest guru's say. On top not mixed in. Living in Florida my garden has never rested for six years. Here is what I found...

MULCHING (Food for thought & your garden) Written and compiled by: James Vargas Using locally produced wood chips and leaves are a sustainable activity, keeping a useful product out of the landfill, which is both environmentally and economically beneficial. There are a lot of misconceptions and myths that create controversy. This information is intended to be just FOOD FOR THOUGHT. Benefits:

  • Insures a bumper crop - high yield production a) Mother Earth’s website states vegetable yields are 50% more productive b) Creates more uniform moisture for the plant roots. This uniformity and other organic processes as a result of mulching, creates a less stressful environment for the plant, allowing it to be more productive.
  • Reduces soil erosion and crusting a) The organic matter helps to keep the soil crumbly and easy to work. (OSU Ext Svcs) b) Water droplets from rain or irrigation on a mulched surface can’t directly hit the soil. The soil particles are able to group together or aggregate more. This process increases soil’s air spaces and moisture holding capacity which are necessary to sustain microbial life of fungi and bacteria. This aids in the decomposition process of organic material. c) Worms further work their magic reducing material and aggregate it even further.
  • Moderates soil temperature a. The Cornell University study reports that mulched plot’s summer soil temperatures were reduced by 8 to 13 degrees. This prevents the sun from wreaking havoc on tender vegetation by lowering soil temps. b) Protects the plant root system in the winter.
  • Conserves water = Less watering a) The same study found the soil moisture content in mulched plots were two times as high. b) The Oregon State University Extension Svc Master Gardener program states moisture moves by capillary action to the surface and evaporates, if mulch does not cover the soil.
  • Improves Soil nutrients a) Mulch breaks down into organic soil, rich with a variety of microbes. A variety of mulched material increases the variety of microbes increasing the variety of plants fed. b) Organic mulches condition the soil and furnish food for earthworms, which are valuable in aerating the soil. c) Organic Gardening cited a Washington State University study that found sand turned into rich black soil full of life. d) Our own experiments here at Temple Terrace Community Garden has proven this to be true. Our pathways were mulched early on. Originally very sandy. I found the paths to have better soil than the plot itself. I started using that soil once it broke down and then re-mulch the path. Later- after attending a class put on by a local garden - Willow Garden - I started mulching the garden.
  • Less weed growth = less weeding a) More time can be and is spent on trying to control weeds than any other home gardening activity. b) Mulching with oak and other like mulches decreases the likelihood of weed seeds germinating. Be careful – as I will mention later - some straws and hay must be aged to rid it of the various seeds that if left in the hay or straw will lead to a marked increase in weeds. c) Cornell University study reports that the time required to remove weeds in a mulched areas was reduced by two-thirds. In my opinion and experience here, a lot less time is involved than mentioned in the study. d) Seeds of most grasses, weeds and plants will not germinate where oak mulch meets the soil and about one inch into the soil. A few types will germinate.
  • The truth of the matter (organic mulch matter) a) Oak leaves and mulch will lower the PH and make the soil too acidic. i) According to Oregon State Extension Services and Horticulture magazine and other sources – In all but the sandiest soil the PH is strongly buffered meaning it does not fluctuate. ii) This study as well as other sources state - PH changes very little after applying most mulches. iii) Research over the years has not demonstrated any detrimental effect of wood chips on established plants. iv) Although oak leaves have an acid PH (4.5 to 4.7) when they are fresh, the breakdown products are neutral to slightly alkaline. This holds true for several mulches like pine bark, pine needles and related materials that are considered acidic. According to the Forest Industry Council of Australia, pines do not harm the soil and various studies have found no evidence of soil acidification in the pine forest. v) I have used only oak mulch in my plot for five years or more, layer upon layer, with no seasonal breaks and recently tested my soil PH at four to six inches of depth. I found my PH to be right at 7.0 – neutral. b) Woody oak mulches, leaves, pine needles, pine bark remove nitrogen from the soil i) This only occurs where the oak and woody materials meet the soil surface. The effect is minimal. Most seedlings do great just one or two inches below the surface. (i) Put a fine layer of decomposed mulch on top of the soil, then add a layer of fresh non decomposed mulch on top. This will help alleviate that neutral zone of low nitrogen that may affect seeds. The top fresh layer will combat germination of the undesirable grasses and weeds. The top layer should be 2-3 inches thick and minimal contact with new seedlings. (ii) In addition - If you are still concerned, add a layer of high nitrogen fertilizer to the surface soil before mulching such as blood meal if you are planting seeds or small seedlings. (iii) Planting small plants that are already established – like the ones you purchase from a nursery will be planted well below the surface away from this area. (iv) Research over the years has not demonstrated any detrimental effect of wood chips on established plants. (b) In a vegetable garden do not till if you are using these woody mulches and do not use the wood chips below the surface. It will tie up some nitrogen where the plant needs it most, at the roots. Vertical tilling also disrupts the microbial community established in the soil. ii) Over time, nitrogen increases when using woody or oak chips as mulch - states a 1971 Cornell University 15 year research study.
  • What are my options other than oak chips? a) Oak leaves i) Breaks down to one of the best organic materials to feed your plants. ii) When using oak leaves as mulch it is very important that: (1) The first layer to touch the soil needs to be small particles of FINELY decomposed leaves. (2) The layer above the decomposed layer can be whole leaves – preferred chopped. Not too thick or water will not reach the soil. b) Hay

i) Breaks down into excellent nutrients. ii) Great for starting seeds (mulch 5-6 inches thick for seeds). iii) Retains moisture : good for seeds that you have planted – not good in constant rainy conditions – mold, mildew iv) Choose a high quality hay – less seeds. Some hays may be a weed/seed haven and need to be aged past the seed stage or slightly composted. v) Check your local feed stores for old bales at a substantially lower price. We have a gardener here that used hay to mulch in her garden at the beginning of the season and reports no weed problem at all. c) Straw i) cover only, no nutritional value - Mulches not generally used in vegetable garden - Mulches such as chipped hard and softwoods, cedar, cypress and pine bark aren't used much in vegetable gardens. They will last the longest because they are resistant to decay. Use those mulches around perennials/flower gardens.
- Painted /dyed mulches
- Rubber mulches
- Stones
- Sawdust

i) If you mix sawdust into your soil, nothing will grow there for a year or more. Pure wood materials like sawdust and wood shavings are super-high in carbon, and their carbon will absorb all of the plant-feeding nitrogen in your soil in its quest to decompose. Mix with other organic material. ii) Prone to compaction iii) Where did the saw dust come from. What wood materials? Pressure treated, hard woods, cedar?

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