Making friends with our Big Leaf Maple

Big Leaf Maple tree

Big Leaf Maple tree

A good portion of our lot is wooded.  I’m talking very big, very tall trees native to the Pacific Northwest.  Most of the these trees are evergreen, not requiring much work, but we do also have native Big Leaf Maple trees.  The name says it all. Big leaves.  And lots and lots of them.  In years past, the dropping of these leaves has been nothing but a nuisance.  What to do with all those leaves?  Typically, we’ve raked them into a sloped area near our driveway and forgotten about them.  This year, though, I better understand what the Big Leaf has to offer.  Leaves are a great ingredient in composting.  I’m a beginner at composting, so a site like Seattle Tilth will tell you all about it much more effectively than I could. Simpler than mixed ingredient compost, leaf mulch is essentially just leaves that have been piled up and have broken down.  Some sites recommend that you mulch, or chop up, the leaves to help them break down faster. As you can see, I did this to cover the new rain barrels and raised beds. By the spring, once the leaves have broken down, they can be used as you would any mulch, for weed suppression and moisture retention. You can also dig them into food planting areas to build up organic matter and improve the overall quality of the soil.

The start of a lasagna garden planting area

The start of a lasagna garden planting area

I’m also using the leaves for a lasagna planting area that I’m starting to work on.  Lasagna gardening is a lower-overhead way to prepare an area for planting.  Instead of digging up an area or tilling, you build on top of the ground, as it is, by layering newspaper or cardboard and then layers of organic matter than you have available.  Well, we have leaves. Lots of leaves. So I’m using that as the first layer.  We also have goat manure and straw, which is going to be another layer.  And then more leaves, and then I’ll figure out what next. And then we wait until next spring for it all to break down into plantable organic material.  As you can see, the lasagna garden, while theoretically less work, does require planning.

Still, even with the lasagna gardening project and the general leaf mulching I’ve got going on, we will have many, many more leaves than we can deal with.  Right now, the lower part of our driveway, the location of our second Big Leaf, is completely covered in leaves. It’s looks quite pretty right now, but I know it isn’t going to take long before it becomes a big unsightly mess.  Sounds like the perfect time to call for the help of my 13-year-old nephew.  He likes earning money and I always, always have a job for him.   I’ll also offer up leaves to any of my local gardening buddies who aren’t so fortunate as to have Big Leaf Maples in their yard.  If you need more material for your compost bins, the leaves are free for the raking.  Just shoot me an email and we can work out the details.

Update: In the fall of 2011, we decided to part ways with the big leaf maple among other reasons to make way for our solar installation.


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15 Responses to Making friends with our Big Leaf Maple

  1. Sinfonian says:

    Boy, if Woodinville wasn’t as far and the family truck so busy with moving, I’d take you up on that raking duty. I’m jealous over the bin full of leaves that folks have all over the internet. And I’ve got an empty bin perfect for them. /sigh

    Beautiful tree by the way. Much bigger than the one’s I’ve seen!

  2. Susy says:

    We are surrounded by woods and I use leaf mold by the buckets. It’s great because our soil is so bad, at least I have a free ammendments. I occationally pick up bags of leaves I see on the side of the road to add to my pile.

  3. DoubleD says:

    Like you, we are also surrounded by a mixed woodlot of some very big trees. Closer at hand though is our three japanese red maples that provide us with a nice bounty of leaves each fall. I keep one compost bin open just for leaves each fall. Compost made from mostly leaves is truly miraculous stuff. I like to mix in the last fall lawn clippings in with the leaves – adds some greens to the mixture. Just began using the finished “leaf” compost from last year about three weeks ago as I prepared the bed designated for the garlic, multiplier onions, and shallots planting. I also used it in other fall beds being put to rest for the winter. The quality of the fall leaf based ompost is far superior to my spring/summer mixes/brews. I notice that beds that are amended with the leaf mixture also have a higher earth worm count come spring when I begin poking around getting ready for the first planting efforts.

  4. Nancy says:

    Your tree is beautiful! Our lot is populated with Cedar Elm with the occasional Mesquite mixed in. The great thing about these trees, the leaves are small…*: ) I can rake them for use, or just let them lie.

  5. Dan says:

    Aside from a few years living in a condo we have always been in homes with large trees. Our current home has the most trees in the back we have ever been around. They are certainly a lot of work but are worth it for reducing a/c usage in the summer, for attracting wildlife and of course making everything look nicer.

    Good luck finding someone to work for leaves. 🙂

  6. Thanks for all the comments about the tree and leaves. Looks like, weather permitting, this will be the weekend for the big raking and piling for leaf composting. I know I’ll be happy in the spring that I put in this effort now.

    Rich, I’ll try to bag up a couple of garbage bags full for you and if it works out you could come pick them up sometime.


  7. sinfonian2 says:

    Thanks Sandy, let me know (shoot me an email or FG message) and I’ll work on getting them. If you don’t have any, that’s cool too. They just make great compost. Thanks for thinking of me, yet again!

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