How autumn leaves can be useful

North Country Gardening

For many reasons, I look forward to fall each year. Fall weather is ideal with the sunny days and cool nights. Then, there are the leaves — the beautiful, colorful, useful leaves. Yes, that is correct. Leaves are useful.

Leaves are one of the best gifts a gardener can ask for. Why? Because they are the most abundant free source of organic matter one can find. One of the most common ways gardeners use leaves is to compost them.

To compost your leaves, you can simply stockpile leaves into a bin or pen. Turning them periodically helps speed up the decomposition process, as does adding some nitrogen. A free nitrogen source is your fruit and vegetable scraps. Just make sure that your compost pile has twice the volume of leaves as it does in food scraps and never add any meat or dairy products. Break these two composting rules, and your pile will start to smell foul.

Part of the beauty of leaves, though, is that you don’t have to wait for your leaves to compost before using them. With some shredding assistance from your lawnmower, you can give your leaves useful jobs right now.

Leaves make an excellent fall mulch for your perennial beds and vegetable gardens. And, for those more interested in producing compost, remember that leaf mulch won’t remain mulch forever. Think of leaf mulch as compost waiting to happen!

New garden beds can be made by covering the new garden space, this fall, with six layers of overlapping newspaper or a layer of cardboard. Cover this with 2 inches of compost and 3 to 4 inches of shredded leaves. By the spring all of this will have killed the sod below and decomposed into a nice rich soil amendment that can be tilled into the soil.

Research done by Michigan State University reveals that leaves can even be left right on the lawn. The studies conducted by the university left thick layers of shredded leaves on the lawn and allowed them to decompose where they fell. The grass in their studies greened up faster in the spring and grew strong the following summer. Just don’t expect the leaves to disappear from view until the grass starts to grow next spring!

Anne Lenox Barlow is a professional horticulturist who enjoys gardening with her family in Plattsburgh. She also chronicles her gardening experiences at her blog www.northcountrygarden. wordpress.com. She can be reached at a.lenox.barlow@gmail.com.

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