Monday, September 10, 2007

Making Use of Fallen Leaves in Your Yard

The previous post (below) tells why raking all your leaves to the curb is not such a great idea. There are lots of reasons to think of leaves as an asset rather than a burden. Here are some ways you can use leaves to advantage in your yard, whether it be large or small.

1. The simplest thing to do is rake/blow them into a woodlot, if available.

2. Rake them against the fenceline, where they can serve as a mulch to keep down weeds that often dominate along fencelines. Or dump them on any other weeds or groundcovers that are getting out of control. A thick layer of leaves discourages weeds. For weeds/groundcovers strong enough to push up through the leaves, first place overlapping pieces of cardboard on the undesired plants, then use the leaves over top to hide the cardboard.

3. Rake them into a leafpile. A corral or circle of wire fencing will help contain the leaves and keep them from blowing around. A readily available fencing is 3 feet high, green, and comes in rolls at the local hardware store. (Photo shows enough fencing for several corrals). The corral is essentially invisible when tucked in a back corner of the lot. A U-shape may be preferred so that leaves can be dragged, blown or raked right into the enclosure rather than lifted over the fencing. The leaf pile quickly reduces in size over the winter. The leaves can be left to decompose, acting like a sponge to catch the rain, and releasing nutrients to benefit the health of all trees and other landscaping in the vicinity. Contrary to popular notions of composting, it's not necessary to laboriously turn the pile. Just let it decompose over time. My experience is that a pile of leaves does not create odors.

4. Spread them on the vegetable garden and leave them there to hold in moisture, prevent weeds from sprouting, keep the soil cool in the summer, and slowly release nutrients. Planting tomatoes, for instance, requires nothing more than parting the leaves to put the new plants in. The leaf mulch reduces rotting of any tomotoes that touch the ground.

5. Mulch them up with a mower so they can disappear back into the lawn. The fragmented leaves can also be raked onto flower beds as a mulch. Some leaves, like those of silver maples, crinkle up and all but disappear into the lawn on their own, even before mowing. For thick, persistent leaves like those from a red oak, a corral or the mulch mower approach will keep them from blowing back into the yard.

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