Leaves use carbon dioxide in the air, water from the soil, and energy from sunlight to make sugars through photosynthesis. Photo: Karen Gideon
Come fall, many trees and shrubs shed their leaves, dropping them to the ground in the expectation that they will decompose and share their nutrients, enriching the soil with fungi and bacteria and mulching the base of the plant. As mulch, fallen leaves help protect the plant from winter’s assault by spreading an organic blanket on the surface of the soil. They help prevent the drying and freezing of root tissue. They suppress weed growth and provide a habitat for insects, larvae, and other animals seeking shelter, food, and a place to nest. When rainstorms come, leaves help with erosion control.Dried leaves are combustible and should be removed from the area up to five feet from structures. Photo: Karen Gideon
You can still leverage the nutritive value that your dead leaves deliver through leaf composting. This need not require a separate composter or fancy system. Rather, piling the leaves on the ground in an area of your yard at least thirty feet from your home (Zone 2) and away from other vegetation allows them to break down without being a fire hazard. If the thought of raking leaves away from your home for safety is more than you can bear, consider using a reverse blower. This leaf vacuum with a bag collects your leaves with the effort it takes to walk your yard. Review Fire Smart basics at https://ucanr.edu/sites/MarinMG/files/356387.pdf.Decomposed leaves, combined with green material, offer nutrition and soil enhancements to the garden. Photo: Karen Gideon
The decomposition process requires moisture and oxygen for the best results. The pile of compost should be turned and mixed. Moisture can be provided by rain or hand sprinkling. If the pile becomes slimy or smelly, add more leaves.Leaves with thick, waxy tissue will break down faster when shredded or chopped up with a weed whacker. Photo: Karen Gideon
The number one priority is to remove leaves in the area within five feet of your home and other structures or decks. If you can accommodate a compost pile in an extended reduced-fuel area, you can still use the valuable leaves in your garden.