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One Gardener’s Trash is Another’s Compost

November 9th, 2010

This time of year I’m always on the lookout for bags of leaves to throw in the car and bring home. As you remember, I use them to make mulch for the gardens. I also wrap my hydrangeas and fill them with leaves to protect them from the harsh winter weather.

Since you never know what kinds of chemicals other gardeners are using on their lawns, none of these collected leaves get used on my vegetable beds. They’ll be used on the hydrangeas and on the ornamental beds.

Last year, our neighborhood made leaf collecting much easier for us. During fall cleanup season they put a few dumpsters by the front gate for leaves & tree trimmings. We simply have to head up there every week or so to collect a car full of leaves. So far I’ve collected 12 big garbage bags of free mulch and most likely I’ll double that by the end of fall!

Do you pick up leaves you see on the side of the road? Do you have another source for free garden amendments like seaweed?

20 Comments to “One Gardener’s Trash is Another’s Compost”
  1. LB on November 9, 2010 at 10:16 am

    When I lived in central Illinois, one of the nearby cities collected leaves and yard waste, composted it, and then sold compost to anyone who wanted to buy some. I never thought to drive around and collect bags of leaves, but I did buy compost from the city… it worked great.

    Reply to LB's comment

    • Susy on November 9, 2010 at 10:55 am

      That’s a great idea, I always wished out local communities did something like this.

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • Seren Dippity on November 9, 2010 at 7:13 pm

        I had really bad luck doing that a couple of years ago. It seemed like the majority of the city compost was composed of Christmas trees and so it was very acidic. (Or something was wrong with it.) We had two pick up truck loads that we used to help fill up our raised beds. The first year, nothing grew well. It has taken 3 years and LOTS of amendments to get the soil balanced out, earthworms are just now starting to show up. The spot in the yard where the compost was originally dumped stayed bare for the longest time. Even the weeds wouldn’t grow there.

        to Seren Dippity's comment

      • Amanda on November 11, 2010 at 10:07 am

        Our city not only collects the leaves twice each year but they offer the compost and mulch for free! You can bring your truck and for a small loading fee they’ll fill’er up! Thank goodness our neighbors like us because the aroma for a couple of days is well…..composty! Those are not the days for a picnic:)

        to Amanda's comment

  2. Kelly (The Sorry Gardener) on November 9, 2010 at 10:30 am

    You have to wrap your hydrangeas? Sometimes I forget how easy I have it here in the Pacific Northwest. I’m sure going to be hosed on the gardening front if we ever move back to the Midwest.

    Reply to Kelly (The Sorry Gardener)'s comment

    • Susy on November 9, 2010 at 10:57 am

      Yes, I have some ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangeas that don’t technically need wrapped, but they bloom much better and longer if I do. I also have a few others that definitely need wrapped or they don’t bloom at all. Wrapping them also helps keep the deer from munching on them all winter long.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  3. Vegetable Garden Cook on November 9, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    I did that one year. But in my climate, the leaves don’t break down fast enough. We are constantly getting rained on, which cools the soil. We live in slugville, and leaves make the problem a million times worse.

    And, after I had applied the leaves to the garden, I had this horrible infestation of these cutworm-like pests. I couldn’t find anyone who could identify them. They behaved just like slugs, only, they also ate plants that slugs normally left alone… garlic and such.

    Anyway, not to rain on your parade. Obviously it works well for you. Leaves work well for my mother too. She lives in zone 5 and doesn’t have the slug problem we have here (though her slug problem is raising).

    She posts ads on craigslist, asking for bagged leaves, then spends a day with a truck going around and picking them all up. She says the only leaves that she won’t pick up are walnut leaves, as they supposedly are toxic to many plants.

    Reply to Vegetable Garden Cook's comment

  4. Helen on November 9, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    I did laugh when I read this, you are the first person I have come across who seeks out leaves. I have loads which I bag up and use for soil improvement.

    Reply to Helen's comment

  5. Sincerely, Emily on November 9, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    Yup, I am one of those what will pull over and pick up bags of leaves. Last Dec my parents were in town and we were down in the historical district touring some homes and driving around. There were several homes that have piles of bags of leaves in their front yard. I wanted to fill the back of the van with leaves and it took me a long time to convince my step-father that I was serious! We finally did come home with about 5 bags, I couldn’t convince him I really really wanted as many as we could fit in the back! He now believes me. Sincerely, Emily

    Reply to Sincerely, Emily's comment

  6. Jennifer Fisk on November 9, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    I have enough leaves of my own to use. I use the mulching mower to suck them up, chew them up and blow them into the grass catcher. I frequently empty it into the Garden Way cart that is emptied onto a pile that contains hen house litter, grass clippings and rabbit manure. I live on an Island on the coast of Maine so gathering seaweed for the garden is fairly easy. By spring, it is pretty well dissolved into the soil. Wonderful source of trace minerals. The liquid seaweed emulsion is a pretty good substitute and you don’t have to lift heavy totes.

    Reply to Jennifer Fisk's comment

  7. Daedre Craig on November 9, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    You live in the woods. Don’t you already have and endless supply of leaves? Haha.

    I’ve thought about gleaning a few bags of yard clippings from the neighbors before, but I wasn’t sure if that was legal (without permission). Any thoughts?

    Reply to Daedre Craig's comment

    • Susy on November 9, 2010 at 6:22 pm

      I wouldn’t see why it wouldn’t be legal, it should be illegal to throw leaves in the garbage!

      I do have tons of leaves, but can always use more.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  8. Jackie on November 9, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    Hmmm…seaweed. There’s lots of decaying (stinky!) seaweed on the beach in winter. It would need rinsing, but would be good for the garden. I wonder if the stink would die down if I mixed it into the compost?

    Reply to Jackie's comment

  9. carolyn on November 9, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    *speaking into mic* Ahem, Hello, my name is carolyn and I’m *obsessed* with your blog. Thank you so much for your constant good ideas, thought-provoking quotes, and sharing your little sliver of the world. You’ve encouraged me to start a garden next year and I will for sure be going back through many of your posts for help.

    Reply to carolyn's comment

    • Susy on November 9, 2010 at 8:26 pm

      Very sweet of you to comment such wonderful thing. Glad you’re starting a garden next year, that’s one of the reasons I blog, to encourage others to give gardening a go.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  10. Wendy on November 10, 2010 at 1:03 am

    I haven’t gotten brave enough to ask complete strangers yet–although I almost asked the grounds crew at the local fairgrounds the other day. I did just score 6 bags of leaves from my parents, though!

    Reply to Wendy's comment

  11. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by mark mile, Susy Morris. Susy Morris said: One Gardener’s Trash is Another’s Compost #frugalliving #leaves #mulch […]

    Reply to Tweets that mention One Gardener’s Trash is Another’s Compost | Chiot’s Run —'s comment

  12. Justin on November 10, 2010 at 11:53 am

    I have quite the opposite problem with an acre of cleared land and lots of oaks and maples. I have more leaves than I know what to do with. :-) It’s taken me about 4 weekends running just to keep up with the raking/gathering of the front and back yard alone (forget the field) so it doesn’t get out of control. Luckily, I have a mower with a bagger, so if I don’t let them pile-up too long, I’m able to chew them up and move them to one spot in the back field. I’m hoping the winter will help the very large pile compost well and then I’ll have more compost than I know what to do with.

    Incidentally, we also had a record year for acorns here in Southern New England. The size and bounty was like nothing I’ve ever seen. When it got windy, they’d rain down on buildings, cars, the roads and yards and it’d sound like a hailstorm. It was quite dramatic. Then, we all ended-up having to rake and scoop bucketfuls if we didn’t want mini oaks all over the lawn.

    Anyone know what I can do with buckets and buckets of mostly cracked acorns? I’m hesitant to add them to the compost pile or use them for mulch for obvious reasons.

    Reply to Justin's comment

    • Susy on November 10, 2010 at 11:58 am

      I’m sure you can find a hunter that would love those acorns for a deer baiting station. You can find some woods to sprinkle them in as well since they’re prime food for squirrels and deer.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  13. Gil on March 26, 2011 at 9:25 pm


    I love your ideas on picking up bags of leaves. I think it’s considerate of people to put them in clear bags to let others know just what’s available at the curb, if they’re not going to use the leaves themselves.
    I started mulching the Red Tip Photinia I planted along the back fence of our property. Since I don’t have to cut the grass in the fall and winter anyway, I just push my yard sweeper and pick up all of the Oak Leaves that Jerry and Rachel’s trees next door drop into our yard. . I managed to pick up at least thirty bagsful. Initially I was concerned that they’d blow all over the yard, but they stay in place, and keep the weeds down. Now when I see people throwing out leaves, I just don’t get it. They buy mulch and fertilizer at the big box stores and throw out perfectly good mulch and fertilzer that their yards produce.

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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