Leaves make a good mulch. If you have a thick enough layer of them, they suppress weed growth and add organic matter to the soil when they decay. However, we live on the side of a very large, steep hill so most of the leaves end up getting blown by the wind to the bottom of the hill–unless something stops them. The solution I came up with to stop the blowing leaves is something I call “leaf corrals.”
Since I always have an abundant supply of small branches that have fallen to the ground, I use them to form a barrier. Stacking up the branches eight to 10 inches high is enough to do the job and looks fairly attractive if you like the rustic look, which I do. Maintaining them just requires the occasional addition of more branches and dumping more leaves on top in the fall.
The leaf corrals I’ve created in the past were done early in the fall in partly shaded areas in the back yard. After I stacked up the branches, I pulled all the weeds and put down a thick layer of leaves around mature plants and on top of bare areas where the spring ephemerals will emerge.
This time I’m trying out a leaf corral that has a few differences from the ones I’ve done before. The first difference is that the new one is going in up front where there is nothing but full sun and is more exposed to the wind. This new patch is where I killed the grass by solarization during the summer, and later planted small plants that had been propagated from seeds in the spring. (Considering how dry it was this fall, this may have been a mistake.) By early December, this patch was completely covered by chickweed and other winter weeds. Unlike before, I didn’t even try to get rid of the weeds. I just put up the barrier of branches and dumped the leaves over the entire patch. What I’m hoping is that the leaves will smother the weeds, but will have broken down enough by spring to allow the young plants I planted to emerge. That’s the way it has worked for the established spring ephemerals, but I’ll just have to wait and see if works for smaller, more vulnerable plants.