Dirt on Gardening

The plentiful rainfall we’ve received in the Ozarks should lead to a colorful autumn leaf display. After the leaves fade and fall anyone – gardener and non-gardener – with trees in his or her yard is left with leaves to remove.

Gardeners can use leaves as compost in their yards, vegetable and flower beds. Compost is one of the best, least expensive and most natural of fertilizers. Compost can feed plants, improve soil structure, and, as is the case with leaves falling from trees, compost is free.

As an organic fertilizer, composted leaves release nutrients slowly by interacting with organisms in the soil. While organic fertilizers take longer to become available to plants, overall, they have a greater nutrient value available over time.

How can fallen leaves be used?

Ideally, fall leaves should be shredded before being used as compost. The thickness of leaves varies according to the leaf type. For example, a walnut or maple leaf is quite thin and breaks down quickly. Oak leaves are tough and may go through an entire winter without completely breaking down.

Leaves can be shredded using a home chipper shredder or by mowing over the leaves and collecting them in the bagger of a mower.

Dry leaves can be plowed or tilled into the annual vegetable or flower beds. Lawns can benefit from pulverized leaves, too. Applying a fall synthetic nitrogen application along with the leaves will aid in the decomposition of the leaves.

Chopped leaves added to the compost pile will break down quickly. Leaves in the compost pile will break down in the compost pile when combined with “green” compost like grass clippings or manure.

In addition to providing a great source of free nitrogen for the garden bed or the compost pile, leaves can also be used as an effective winter mulch to protect tender perennials. After a hard freeze and the plants go dormant, add a three to six-inch layer of shredded leaves over the perennials. Allow the leaves to remain on the tender perennials until spring thaws begin.

Fall leaves, which many times just end up in a smoke-filled burn pile, can be effectively used to provide useful resources for gardeners, replacing expensive and non-organic garden composts and mulches that have been used in the past.

Questions or comments related to gardening? Contact Joleen at missourigardener@hotmail.com

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