Saturday, November 19, 2016 By: Ask A Master Gardener

Options for Leaf Use in FAll

Fallen leaves can be asset to gardens

Bill Sevier: Ask a Master Gardener

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Q: What is the best way to dispose of leaves in fall? I would rather not put them in the trash. Andy B., Tulsa
A: There are much better options for leaf use than placing them on the curbside for trash pickup. There are several ways fall leaves may be an asset for your garden. They may be used for mulch, tilled into garden soil for organic enrichment, composted or simply mowed into the lawn. All of these options ultimately give you free fertilizer, mulch and compost.
Most of these options involve the use of a lawn mower, preferably a “mulching” mower. This reduces the size of a leaf pile about 10-fold and helps accelerate the ultimate decay and release of nutrients.
University-based studies have shown that mowing up to 6 inches of leaves into the lawn is not only safe, but also beneficial for all types of turfgrass if done properly. The lawn should be mowed tall (2-3 inches), and the leaves should be completely shredded so they fall below the top of the grass. There, they decompose rapidly, add nutrients and do not contribute to thatch or disease.
Leaves also make great mulch for your garden, especially if shredded with a mulching mower. Shredded leaves added to your garden beds in the fall should completely decompose into usable organics and nutrients by the following fall, ready for another application. If they are not shredded and simply piled up in the bed, they may become soggy, decompose more slowly and prevent adequate passage of water and air.
The myth that some leaves, especially oak leaves, may add acidity to your soil, is simply not true. Good studies have shown that most all of the standard mulches have no effect on soil pH, but they all do add nutrients.
These same shredded leaves also may be directly tilled into the soils of your garden beds this fall. If added to the soil in fall, they will compost, and the bed should be ready by spring for planting of either vegetables or ornamentals. If the leaves are tilled into the garden in spring, rather than fall, they may compete with your plants for nutrients until decomposed.

It is highly desirable to have a compost pile for garden wastes. Leaves and most other yard wastes may be changed into a valuable garden addition. To get started, OSU has a fact sheet, “Backyard Composting in Oklahoma,” which offers complete information on compost bins and what may and may not be composted. This is available on the OSU Tulsa Master Gardeners website,
Don’t forget that Tulsa has an excellent free green-waste site, 2100 N. 145th E. Ave., for yard wastes, including large tree parts. The site is open daily, except city holidays, and is free to Tulsans with a proof of residence. There, all your yard wastes, including leaves, will be shredded into mulch for all. This service is free, and you may also get free mulch, as much as you want.

Garden tips

• Remove all debris from the vegetable and flower garden to prevent overwintering of various garden pests.
• Start new garden bed preparations now. Till plenty of organic material into the soil in preparation for spring planting.

• Cover water gardens with bird netting to catch dropping leaves. Take tropical water garden plants indoors and stop feeding fish when water temperatures near 50 degrees.


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