Leaves across the country are beginning to fall along with the temperatures. And the thought of falling leaves, leaves many of us with questions about what to do with them. At the end of the day, you have four basic options: Leave them alone, Mulch them (run over them with a mower or shredder), Compost them, or Rake and Remove.
Rake and Remove- This option is very labor intensive but provides the over-all cleanest results. It is becoming harder to do because of landfill restrictions on yard waste and it is not the most environmentally friendly option. It does have some benefits, though, as it removes all litter and debris and makes it harder for insects and bacteria to overwinter.
Mulching- This is the option preferred 2:1 by husbands who would rather spend their Saturday’s watching SEC football (okay, so I am biased) than doing yard work. It is quick and easy. Fire up the lawn mower, set the setting to high, and proceed. In a relatively short amount of time, the lawn is cleared of visible leaves and you can get on with your plans. A slightly more elaborate version involves actually using the bag attachment to catch the pulverized leaves then piling them around your perennials, trees, shrubs, or dumping them into your garden to be incorporated later.
This option is okay if you pay attention to a few biological realities.
- It takes nitrogen to process this litter into a usable form, if you don’t provide it, the soil will rob it from the surrounding plants and from the soil.
- It takes microbes to break down all organic matter If you don’t have them they could lay on top of your soil literally for years.
- Anything that does not break down and get incorporated into your soil will serves as a barrier to sunlight, moisture and nutrient exchange and could actually end up choking out your lawn.
- Some plants like oaks and pines are acidic by nature. Castings from these trees are high enough in tanic and other acids that they actually affect the pH of your soil and unless you address these issues your lawn will suffer.
The good news is these situations can be remedied with a little time and expense. Make sure you apply a good quality fertilizer like a 10-10-10 granular or, for added convenience, use Monty’s 4-15-12 and lightly spray the lawn/mulch mixture after mulching the leaves.
To boost the microbial population in the soil we recomend using Monty’s Calcium Plus or Monty’s Liquid Carbon (where available). Simply spray the surface of your soil before soil temperatures fall below 45 degrees F (below that temperature, microbes are hibernating and no additive will increase the reproduction of sleeping organisms).
Leave them alone- Growing up reading “Walden,” this option appeals the most to me. After all, no one is there to pick up after the trees in the wild. These leaves just become part of the natural order of things. However, we do not live in the wild and our neighbors tend to frown on this attitude. Beyond that, there are some other considerations. In the wild, trees are in the forest, grasses are in the meadows or grasslands. The two environments rarely mix. Because the dense shadows, wet heavy leaves, and acidic conditions brought on by the carpet of leaves is not very conducive to growing grasses. However, if you are bent on leaving the leaves where they fall, or where they blow, take the actions listed above. Provide enough nitrogen so that the soil will not cannibalize your plants and make sure you have the needed organic matter in the soil by soil testing for OM and enhance the microbial population when you can. Bear in mind that even with the precautions you can still smother your grasses and leaves ideal locations for weeds next spring.
Compost- All the labor intensiveness of raking with the added fun of having to go out and turn the, how shall I say this politely…”earthy-smelling” pile of decaying leaves. However, on the plus side of the ledger it will give you a good source of soil for your raised beds next season or fertilizer to mix in with your gardens, lawns and flower beds. You still will have the problems noted previously about needing microbes to break down the debris and needing to add a bit of nitrogen to the mix for optimal results. the easiest way to do this is to lightly spray the surface of the compost pile with Monty’s Liquid Carbon each time you go out to turn your compost bin. Directions for building a compost bin can be found here, or you can purchase one of the newer fangled ones here. Our friends at Naturally Horton’s can also be a good source of advice or materials.
So, as fall starts to fall, chose the method that is best for you and be prepared to address the needs that each method brings. Till then, keep working in the yard and garden and keep sending us your pictures and feed back.
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