Every fall, a free resource for gardeners falls from trees. Many homeowners rake leaves into piles, bag them up, and haul them away, however, leaves have many benefits in the landscape.
Leaves are an invaluable source of essential plant nutrients, such as phosphorus, potassium, and calcium. Leaves are rich in carbon and create a well-balanced compost when added with nitrogen-rich grass clippings.
Leaves also have good insulating potential when used as overwintering cover for fall-planted root crops and perennials. The insulation helps moderate the soil temperate. Leaves help to smother out potential spring weeds around established shrubs in the landscape. The layer of leaves also provides retention of soil moisture.
Gardeners can utilize leaves by mulching them with a lawnmower into the lawn, piling them up and turning them into compost, then incorporating into landscape and garden beds. Mulching leaves into the lawn is the easiest method. Using a lawnmower with a mulching mower blade makes short work of chopping the leaves into find particles, which will then break down relatively quickly.
A lawnmower can also be used to chop and gather leaves for composting. Composting leaves takes more time, 3 months up to 1 year, but is a straightforward process. Creating a leaf mold is a special case of leaf mulch. Producing leaf mold involves collecting leaves in a container like bags or wire mesh cages, keeping the leaves moist to allow fungi to colonize, and turning the leaf occasionally (once or twice every month) to achieve partial decomposition. Incorporate the leaf mold compost on top or turned into the soil. The leaf mold will become a “super rich” soil conditioner.
Leaves can actually be used as winter cover for pollinators and other invertebrates. Leaves can provide a protective habitat for valuable insects. Combining leaves with standing dead plant material provides terrific overwintering sites. Recycling leaves come with one warning though. Diseases and pest insects can overwinter in fallen leaves. So, if there has been a consistent problem on one particular tree or shrub, remove and destroy those leaves
Clemson Extension will be having their annual fruit tree fundraiser. If you are interested in an order form please call the Extension office at 843-774-8218 extension 0.
For more information on mulching leaves, please visit the Home and Garden Information Center website at Tune in on Tuesday nights to watch “Making it Grow” at 7pm on SCETV or Email Outen at [email protected]
*Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.