USE THOSE LEAVES!
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Question: Help! My back yard is swamped with tons of leaves. What can I do with them?
Answer: During the spring and summer months, we love the beauty and shade that leaves provide on our landscape trees. In autumn, however, we are often buried under tons of leaves and wonder what to do with them. My answer: use them. Raking leaves burns 300 calories an hour.
Fill wire cages around your more tender shrubs and roses with large amounts of leaves to provide winter protection after the top of the ground is frozen (Add rodent bait for protection against small gnawing creatures.) Use layers of leaves as walkways in your garden.
Don’t let leaves sit on your lawn for long, or come spring, there will be patches of dead grass where the leaves smothered portions of your once beautiful lawn. If you do hate raking, run the mower often over the fallen leaves as they fall, and the finely shredded leaves will decompose quickly on the lawn surface and not harm the grass. A mulching lawn mower works especially well for this purpose.
Leaves may be left to over winter between your perennials or on top of your vegetable garden, and by spring the leaves will be broken up enough to easily mix into the soil. Speed up the decay process by spreading leaves on your driveway and chopping them up with your lawn mower. Spread 4 or 5 inches of chopped leaves for mulch around your perennials, shrubs, and trees. Leave a few inches bare immediately around your plants to deny a convenient home for gnawing creatures and to discourage stem rot. This attractive mulch will help retain soil moisture, discourage weeds, and will moderate soil temperature. If you have not planted your spring bulbs yet, do so right away and mulch them. Daffodils need at least six weeks of growth to form good roots in autumn, and a mulch will keep the soil above these bulbs from freezing too soon. A good mulch will also reduce the freezing and thawing cycles of soil in the winter and early spring; frost heaving is a major cause of poor fall planting results.
Dig the chopped leaves into your gardens and they will be almost completely decomposed by spring. Dried leaves and leaf mold are low in nitrogen value, so nitrogen may need to be added to your soil. Leaves from walnut trees contain a substance that will stop the growth of some plants (especially tomatoes) and should be well composted before use. If there is a possibility of herbicides on lawns from which the leaves are raked, it is better to use the leaves after they are well composted and the chemicals have had time to break down completely. Leaves, whole or chopped, can be composted. Chopped leaves will decompose rapidly into a rich, humusy leaf mold by spring; whole leaves may take a year or two longer. Adding nitrogen in the form of granular fertilizer (don’t overdo it) or organic fertilizer like blood meal, manure, or cottonseed meal will speed the composting of whole or chopped leaves. Make sure to moisten the leaves or compost pile; it should feel like a damp sponge after watering. Some people create leaf mold by placing whole or shredded leaves into plastic bags, moistening well, and leaving them for a year or two in a secluded part of their property.
Use the resulting leaf mold or compost in the spring to mulch your plants; dig it into your soil to improve its structure; use it as part of your potting mix; or spread it thinly on your lawn. Leaves add plant nutrients, especially the less common micronutrients, to the soil. Soil structure is improved; organic material improves the drainage of heavy soils and improves the water holding ability of sandy soils; and beneficial microorganisms are added and encouraged. Studies in Connecticut have shown that leaf mold can increase water holding capacity of soil by almost 50%. You will be ready for the next drought.