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Fall leaves = free mulch

Question: We have several maple trees that blanket the lawn with leaves in the fall. Can we rake these off the lawn into the garden beds to use as mulch?

 

fall-leavesFall leaves are a good source of mulch for garden beds. As they decompose, they improve the soil structure and return nutrients to the soil, and as mulch, they help retain moisture in the garden beds and slow the growth of winter annual weeds that may pop up.

You could just rake them or blow them off the lawn directly into the beds, but it’s better to shred them before you pile them on top of the perennials and around trees and shrubs. Leaves that have been chopped up will decompose faster. A thick layer of unshredded leaves may also become matted and smother plants underneath, and may prevent water from reaching the soil. You can chop the leaves by mowing over them and collecting them in a bagging attachment, or by using a leaf shredder.

Here are guidelines for using leaves as mulch are from the UT/TSU Extension office:

*Use a 3- to 4-inch layer of shredded leaves around trees and shrubs in annual and perennial flower beds.

*Mix leaves into kitchen garden beds and in beds where you plant annual flowers. Most of the leaves will decompose before planting time next spring. A bonus: if you have heavy clay soil, a thick layer of leaves tilled into the soil will improve the soil structure.

*Be aware that oak leaves may change the pH of the soil over time, making it more acidic, so you may have to apply lime to maintain a favorable number. If your beds are mulched primarily with oak leaves, you should have the soil tested about every three years. Oak leaves are also tougher and decompose more slowly, so it’s especially important to chop them before you use them to cover your perennial beds.

Leaves can also be added to compost as one of the carbon-rich “brown” ingredients. If, after you’ve chopped and used as much of your bounty of leaves as possible on the garden beds, save the rest to use later in the compost, or for mulch again next spring. Bag the leaves and keep them dry so they don’t decompose by the time you need them again in a few months.

November garden tips & tasks

Summer’s over, and the winter holidays are approaching. It’s time to begin thinking about spring. Naturalist Deb Beazley, who leads classes in organic gardening at Warner Parks Nature Center in Nashville, says it’s good to begin planning for next year, even while this year’s garden is still on your mind.

fall leaves

Rake fall leaves from the lawn and use them as mulch.

Fall is a good time to begin to prepare the space for next year’s garden, provided the ground isn’t wet. “At least begin to kill off the grass,” she says. You can accomplish that by covering the parts of the ground you want to turn into garden with clear plastic, newspapers or mulch. If you prefer to use raised beds, build them now. “Get the soil in and get it acclimated. Now is a good time to fill it up and let it settle,” Beazley suggests

Seasoned gardeners can think about bedding down the garden for wintertime. But rather than let the soil lie fallow, she recommends putting it to work by sowing a winter cover crop, such as buckwheat, winter rye or clover. Plan to work it back into the ground with shallow tilling early next spring, which puts nitrogen back into the soil.

It’s also leaf-gathering time, and those leaves you rake up can provide a deep layer of mulch on garden beds in the winter. While you’re leaf gathering, set some aside for later, too; the leaves you rake off the lawn this fall will come in handy next summer, when you can again use them for mulch.

“Cover them in bags so they don’t decompose by the time you need them in June,” Beazley suggests.

Other garden tips and tasks to enjoy this month:

∙ If your landscape is blessed with large trees, leaf removal may be your biggest garden task this month. Fall leaves are a great addition to the compost.

∙ If the weather is mild, you can still plant cool-weather ornamentals early this month – colorful kale, ornamental cabbage, or pansies if you enjoy having flowers in the landscape in winter. Place transplants close together for best color impact, and firm the soil around them to keep freezing and thawing soil from pushing them out of the ground (a process called “heaving”). Add mulch for more winter protection.

∙ Plant spring-flowering bulbs. As a general rule, plant bulbs – pointed end up – at a depth about three times the width of the bulb.

∙ Fall is a good time to plant shrubs. Dig a wide hole that is only as deep as the shrub’s root ball, place the shrub in the hole and fill in the soil. Be sure to firm the soil around the shrub’s root ball, water well, and add several inches of mulch.

 

Mulch garden beds with fall leaves

What’s the best way to use leaves as mulch in the garden? Can we just blow them off the lawn and into the garden beds?

leaves 2Most leaves can become a good source of mulch for garden beds. And yes, you could just blow them off the grass and into the beds, but it would be better to shred them before piling them onto your garden areas. Leaves that have been chopped up will decompose faster; a thick layer of leaves left intact may also smother the plants underneath, and prevent water from reaching the soil.

You can chop the leaves easily by mowing over and collecting them in a bagger attachment, or by using a shredder.

These guidelines for using leaves as mulch are from the UT/TSU Extension office:

*Use a 3- to 4-inch layer of shredded leaves around trees and shrubs in annual and perennial flower beds.

*Oak leaves may change the pH of the soil over time, making it more acidic, so you may have to apply lime to maintain a favorable number. If your beds are mulched primarily with oak leaves, you should have the soil tested about every three years. Oak leaves are also tougher and decompose more slowly, so it’s especially important to chop them before you use them to cover your perennial beds.

*Leaves can be mixed into kitchen garden beds and in beds where you plant annual flowers. Most of the leaves will decompose before planting time next spring. A bonus: if you have heavy clay soil, a thick layer of leaves tilled into the soil will improve the soil structure.

One other piece of advice comes from Deb Beazley, a naturalist at Warner Park Nature Center who leads workshops on organic gardening: When you rake leaves, set some aside for later. Next spring and summer, when you need more mulch, you’ll have a handy source of fall leaves to use.

“Cover them in bags so they don’t decompose by the time you need them next June,” she suggests.

Leafy lawn = free mulch

Our yard is about to be covered with maple and oak leaves. Can leaves be used as mulch in flower and vegetable beds?

After the leaves fall, they can be used as mulch in the garden.

All those trees that are turning brilliant colors are about to flame out and drop their leaves to the ground. Yes, most of them can be used as mulch, and they can benefit your beds. Here are some guidelines for using leaves as mulch from the UT/TSU Extension office:

*Use a 3- to 4-inch layer of shredded leaves around trees and shrubs in annual and perennial flower beds. Notice they suggest “shredded.” Leaves that have been chopped up will decompose faster. They also will, no doubt, stay in place better than whole leaves if a gusty wind comes along.

*Oak leaves may change the pH of the soil over time, making it more acidic, so you may have to apply lime to maintain a favorable number. If your beds are mulched primarily with oak leaves, you should have the soil tested about every three years. Oak leaves are also tougher and decompose more slowly, so it’s especially important to chop them before you use them to cover your perennial beds. Otherwise, when spring comes, a thick layer of oak leaves could smother emerging plants.

*Leaves can be mixed into kitchen garden beds and in beds where you plant annual flowers. Most of the leaves will decompose before planting time next spring. A bonus: if you have heavy clay soil, a thick layer of leaves tilled into the soil will improve the soil structure. Free mulch, plus better soil: win-win.