Sunday, November 5, 2006

Leafing it be

Just when I think the fallen leaves all over my yard are looking rather picturesque, my neighbors go and rake theirs and then my leafy yard seems to lose some of its charm!

We don't put our leaves in plastic bags and never have. Having always been an organic gardener with an ample compost pile, I just don't get that whole business of bagging up the leaves. Why give them away? We used to pile them into a wheel barrow and haul them over to the compost pile, to be added to next spring's gardens.

Then one fall, after talking to another gardener who advocated leaving the leaves on the ground as a form of "sheet composting" ("Mother Nature doesn't put leaves in neat piles," he said. "She just composts them where they fall"), I got the idea to just rake them under the trees and bushes and onto the gardens and let them do their composting there, hence becoming next spring's mulch (yet still clearing the lawn for the benefit of the grass). This has worked well for us for several years now. The only potential problem I see is if the leaves are carrying a plant disease that will overwinter with them. Then I suppose I would get rid of them.

We just moved in September and are in the process of establishing planting beds for next spring, so that's where most of the leaves are going this fall. The leaves we have are mostly maple, which do not make the best mulch because they tend to stay flat, thus matting down and shedding water and not helping to aerate the soil underneath them (unlike ash or oak leaves, which curl and crumble like a good mulch). But if you are trying to kill the grass by covering it up so it, too, turns to compost by spring, then a thick layer of maple leaves ought to do the trick, as I see it. Otherwise, we would lay down newspaper, about 10-12 pages thick, and cover that with wood chips. I have used newspaper, and other thick biodegradable paper and cardboard, but where the leaves are quite deep, we are just piling the woodchips on top of the leaves. This needs to be packed down a bit, but it will settle significantly over the winter.

Come spring, I'll just dig my planting holes right in the mulch. No removing of sod or turning of the soil or even adding compost, since that's being done for us (and with just the right mix of nitrogen from the green grass, and carbon from the leaves, papers, and wood chips). Now that's my kind of landscaping project.

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