Tuesday, October 24, 2017 By: Ask A Master Gardener

Take Advantage of the Benefits of Fall Leaves

Dealing With Fall Leaves
Tom Ingram: Ask a Master Gardener
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Q: Each year, it seems like I spend every weekend bagging leaves. Is there a better way to deal with the leaves that fall from my trees each year? SW
A: It’s easy to view the leaves that will soon be falling from our trees as a nuisance that just comes with home ownership. But, what if we started looking at those leaves as free fertilizer and mulch falling from the sky because that’s what they are?
If we observe what happens in nature with leaves in the fall, our first observation will be a rather obvious one: No one comes through the forest and bags up the leaves. Instead, these leaves are part of a yearly cycle that accomplishes several things.
First of all, when the leaves fall to the ground, they decompose, adding organic matter and valuable nutrients to the soil. By mowing our leaves into the turf with a mulching mower, rather than bagging them up and hauling them away, we have a free source of organic matter to help supplement our soil. Some may suggest that mulching leaves into the turf can contribute to an increased thatch layer and possibly have an effect on soil pH; however, evidence doesn’t confirm these suspicions. In fact, turfgrass with mulched-in leaves tends to perform better than turf without this additional organic matter.
Organic matter is important because it helps with water and nutrient retention, as well as improves soil structure. Oklahoma soils are typically low in organic mater — about 1 percent. So any time we can add organic matter back into our soil, we are helping to improve soil quality. Many gardeners try to achieve an organic content of between 4 percent and 5 percent, and leaves can be a yearly supplement in support of this strategy.
Secondly, leaves that fall to the ground in the forest are an effective mulch. Each spring, gardeners spend a small fortune on mulch, which they could have gotten for free with a little planning in the fall.
Mulch in your garden can help prevent weeds, reduce root damage from cultivation, increase water absorption and retention, decrease runoff and soil erosion, and help regulate soil temperature.
To use these leaves as mulch, you will need to pile them up in the driveway and run your mulching mower over them, or purchase a stand-alone leaf mulcher. Depending on the size of your garden, if you bag these mulched leaves and save them over the winter, you will have a wonderful source of organic mulch ready and waiting for you in the spring.
Garden tips
·        Keep leaves off of newly seeded fescue to prevent damage to the sprouts. Also, the soil of newly seeded fescue should be kept moist until the sprouts are about 2 inches, then water less often and for longer times to encourage deep root growth of the seedlings.
·        Remove garden debris to prevent many garden pests and diseases from overwintering in these materials.
·        Plant cool-season cover crops like Austrian winter peas, wheat, clover and rye in otherwise fallow garden plots.
·        Cover water gardens with netting to keep out falling leaves.


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