Thursday, November 17, 2011

What To Do With All The @&^^> Leaves?

I like fall color as much as most people, but the price of fall color is falling leaves.  We got up this morning to the revelation that the rains of the last couple of days have knocked a lot of leaves out of our trees, and left our lawns coated with a layer of leaves.  This is the part of fall I don't like, having to deal with all the leaves.  Georgia is convinced, against all the best evidence, that the leaves must be removed from the lawn or 1) the neighbors will hate us or 2) the grass underneath them will all die.  So leaving them there, and hoping they blow into the neighbors yard is not an option.  So what are you supposed to do with all the leaves?  Fortunately, we have Public Opinion from Chambersburg Pennsylvania to tell us:
It was once believed -- incorrectly, as it turns out -- that unraked leaves added to thatch problems in turf. So we spend time and energy raking, blowing and removing them, which creates the follow-up problem of how to dispose of them. State and federal regulations provide limits on how to manage them.
  See, I told, you Georgia, it won't kill the grass!
We used to burn them, but have since learned that contributes to air pollution and poses a fire hazard.
Plenty of people in our neighborhood still use the fire method.  In small doses, it contributes a nice smell, but at some point it becomes oppressive.  Besides,  burning leaves actually requires tending a fire, and that becomes work..
Here are a couple suggestions. On-site composting: A 6- to 8-foot diameter ring made of chicken wire or fencing material will easily hold a typical yard's yearly accumulation of leaves. After a year's time, this will compost down and become a marvelous soil amendment on either vegetable gardens or landscaped beds.

Given the large number of large trees in our yard, we need two such rings, and they both end up full by the end of the season.  We also use them for kitchen composting, and some lawn clippings, but not much, as those mostly get mowed back onto the yard with a "composting" setting on the mower.
On-site mulching: Instead of composting, just use raked leaves as mulch directly on beds. This works especially well in shady, dry areas. So long as the leaf layer is less than 4 or 5 inches, plants will have no problem poking up through in spring. Mulching beds in fall keeps the temperature around the surface roots more even, gradually cooling and warming with the seasons thus smoothing out the natural temperature fluctuations and freeze/thaw cycles, which can damage the plant.
We do this some as well.  We have large beds with shrubs, flowers and ferns where we can dispose of leaves, either directly or after chopping and bagging them with the mower.  They look at least as good as bark mulch, and the price is right.  Finally:
Mowing: Don't rake, or blow leaves, mow them. A final run-through of your lawn with a mulching mower set at 3 to 4 inches will chop up leaves sufficiently to allow them to decompose in place and add their nutrients to the turf.
My personal favorite.  Mow 'em in and let 'em rot.

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