How Does Your Garden Grow?

Leaves: The free fertilizer

By Suzanne Larsen
Posted 10/25/19

We didn’t get much time to enjoy the beautiful fall colors this year. With early October’s freezing temperatures, snow and wind, the fall colors are mostly gone. Leaves have fallen by the …

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How Does Your Garden Grow?

Leaves: The free fertilizer

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We didn’t get much time to enjoy the beautiful fall colors this year. With early October’s freezing temperatures, snow and wind, the fall colors are mostly gone. Leaves have fallen by the truck load. Many people feel they need to rake and throw away all the leaves that fall. Nature intended leaves to be a natural fertilizer and protective cover for the earth.

Most of us have been into a forest where no one rakes up the leaves and if you dig just a few inches down, there is dark, fertile soil. You do not have to be a gardener to know that if you were a plant you would rather live in this soil than in the stuff we have in our own yards. The difference is the leaves.

Leaves are full of nutrition that nourishes the organisms that live in the soil. These organisms in turn help produce healthier roots on your plants, including your lawn. This does not mean to let them pile up on the grass. Maybe try a new approach this year. Since the leaves are falling now, mow right over the leaves, letting them scatter over the grass. This is like a mulch for your lawn and sounds a lot easier.

Many people think that if they mow their grass without bagging, they will be creating thatch — not true. Grass clippings are full of nitrogen which the grass needs. The best bet is to keep mowing and mix the grass clippings with the leaves.

The same idea holds true for the garden as well. The easiest way to make good garden soil is to mix grass clippings with chopped leaves and apply them to your garden beds as mulch each fall. It will supply nutrition to the garden soil, help retain moisture and provide a breeding ground for those good microorganisms. If you apply a thick layer of leaves and grass in the fall, you can eliminate the need to till in the spring. This will save you work, eliminate much of your weed problem and improve the overall health of your soil. Tilling chops up your earthworms and microorganisms and exposes buried weed seeds to the light and oxygen they need to germinate.

In a perennial garden, a layer of leaves and clippings will not only nourish the soil, it will insulate the ground, preventing heaving and protecting the crowns of your plants. One word of caution, if your lawn has recently been treated with a broadleaf herbicide, you don’t want to be spreading that grass in your perennial garden.

As valuable as leaves and grass clippings are to us in our yards, they are a huge problem in landfills. We hear a lot about landfills running out of room and tons of money is spent each year to handle that situation. It is said that according to the EPA, as much as 50 percent of that waste comes from plant debris … mainly grass clippings and leaves. This seems to be one environmental problem that we can make the effort to help with that solution.

(Suzanne Larsen of Cody is a master gardener.)

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