Mulch falling leaves to create gold for your garden
The time-honored ritual – many of us would say it’s an ordeal – of raking leaves during the fall months is a chore many homeowners would like to avoid.But if you’re still raking, you’re missing one of the best ways to improve the soil. In fact, with modern leaf blowers and mowers, you may not even need to touch a rake.
“From an ecological point, the best way to deal with leaves in the landscape is to mulch them where they fall and let them decompose to release their minerals back to the soil,” says Patrick Byers, horticulture specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
In well-managed turf, leaf drop from shade trees is not always a nuisance that requires raking. Even if a moderate amount of leaves are chopped with a mulching mower, they can normally be allowed to decompose into the turf.
“Leaves are high in nutrients like iron, zinc, and copper, ,” says Byers. They are also rich in organic matter, a valuable commodity for the turf, existing trees and shrubs.”
The acidity of the leaves is a common concern for many homeowners. Fresh oak leaves may initially lower soil pH, but as leaves decompose, the pH will gradually build to a neutral level causing little concern. And the gold rule remains: a sol test is the best way to know for sure what amendments (including mulch) your soil needs.
Another concern is smothering out the turf if leaves are allowed to remain. Indeed, leaf cover that is too thick may cause excessive moisture under the leaves or drastically reduce sunlight to the turf.
“In some cases, leaves may accumulate to a depth that, even after mulching, will smother out the turf, Byers admits. “If so, it is best to remove the leaves and shred them in another location.”
Other options are to incorporate them into an annual flower or vegetable garden or start your own compost pile. Another alternative is to deliver them to a yard waste recycling center to be composted.
More information on what to do with leaves is available by requesting Guide 6956, “Making and Using Composts,” from your local University of Missouri Extension Center.