For many gardeners, the choice of whether or not to tidy up the garden in the autumn is a long and drawn-out one. Whether it’s nobler in the mind to let leaves fall all over the pathways and lawn, or to use the garden vacuum to get rid of them!

Many gardeners get a little obsessive about tidying up the garden in the autumn, trimming everything back to within an inch of its life so everything appears spotless before “putting it to bed” for the winter. Not that the garden should ever be put to bed – there are still three months of fun to be had out there in the winter! However, regardless of how you feel about the autumn clean-up, there is one task that must be completed: clearing away all of the fallen autumn leaves.

Gather those leaves

While deciduous trees and shrubs look fantastic in the garden, the cost of their magnificent displays is the heaps of dead and rotting leaves that they leave behind when the temperatures drop. Allowing leaves to fall where they may can create an untidy appearance in the garden, create a dangerous slipping hazard on paths and other hard surfaces, damage underlying plants and lawn grass, and provide excellent hiding places for overwintering plant pests and diseases that will attack your plants again the following year. As a result, they must be gathered.

While raking them all together with a soft-tined leaf rake will help burn off some of those extra carbs and help you create a six pack, you may need a more gentle approach if you have a lot to sweep away – or if you have physical difficulties raking.

To vacuum or to blow?

I’ve always been perplexed as to why folks use leaf blowers. They just blow the leaves into piles, which often fly away in windy conditions, before having to collect and bag them. It makes no sense to me. Garden vacuum cleaners, on the other hand, are a far better choice. They blow as well, but in vacuum mode, they suck up all those leaves, making it more faster and easier to gather and deal with them all at once. Most of them also shred the leaves as they collect them, minimising the amount of space they take up and speeding up the rotting process.

Using your lawnmower with the blades set quite high is another quick and easy approach to collect leaves on the grass. This not only gathers them, but also shreds them. If any grass is cut, the rotting process will be accelerated.

They’re all rotten!!

What do you do with all those leaves once you’ve collected them? Don’t throw them away since they can be turned into a useful garden resource known as leaf mould. This is a fantastic “compost” for soil improvement, planting, and mulching. Some plants, such as woodland plants, like it above all else as a planting compost, and I use it specifically for witch hazels (hamamelis). While tree leaves can be added to your regular compost heap or bin, it is preferable to create a separate leaf mould heap because they rot slowly.

Put them in a plastic bag, such as a bin liner or an old compost bag, if you don’t have space for a heap. If the leaves are dry, moisten them, pierce the bag to create a number of breathing holes, tie the top loosely, and then hide the bags throughout the garden for a year or two.

You can buy extra attractive hessian bags for the purpose if you don’t want mounds of black bags cluttering up your garden. Is it necessary to bag them? Certainly not. If you don’t have space for a leaf mould heap or a place to store the full bags, you can sweep the leaves under shrub branches if they don’t contain any plant diseases. They’ll form an excellent mulch and rot down on their own (albeit more slowly) to provide vital compost to the soil. This approach does not always sit well with neat freaks. Overwintering species, including hedgehogs, can benefit from a few piles of leaves in out-of-the-way places – such as under hedges.

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