Tuesday, October 19, 2021
Oct. 19, 2021

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Gardening With Allen: Leaves enrich compost, soil



My gardening friend encouraged me to compost my leaves to improve my garden soil. She not only saves her own leaves but collects the leaves from neighbors. Are leaves really as valuable as she says they are?

Leaves are one of the most valuable free sources of organic matter available to home gardeners. They will definitely improve any soil, whether incorporated into it or used as a mulch on top of it.

The best way to improve any soil is to add organic matter to it. Organic matter opens up clay soils so that water flows into and through them. It holds onto the nutrients you apply when you fertilize so plant roots can take them up. It increases the pore size so there is more oxygen in the soil, which stimulates root growth. Organic matter adds water-holding capacity to sandy soils that tend to dry out too fast. A 2-inch mulch layer will suppress 90 percent of weed sprouting.

An easy way to pick up leaves is to run a rotary lawn mower over them. The mower not only picks up the leaves similar to grass clippings but chops them into smaller pieces. The chopped leaves also reduce the volume by at least two-thirds because they fit more tightly together. The chopped leaves can be immediately tilled or spaded into vegetable soils and annual flower beds so they can break down over winter and be ready for spring planting.

It is a good idea to compost leaves before using them as a mulch on top of the soil.

Composting is a simple process that anyone can do. Find or create an open spot in the backyard where you can pile leaves, grass clippings and other vegetable material such as kitchen waste. Place your chopped leaves in layers 2 to 4 inches deep. Sprinkle a little soil and lawn fertilizer on top of each layer and sprinkle with water. The soil contains microorganisms, which use the organic matter for food and break it down into mulch size pieces. The fertilizer adds nitrogen, which the micro-organisms need to facilitate the process. Moisture is also needed in the process.

The last ingredient needed is air to supply oxygen for the process. That is why the compost pile needs to be turned periodically. The best tool for turning and mixing the compost with air is a spading fork or a pitch fork. They mix the compost as it is turned over. Put it on your calendar to aerate your compost pile once a week or once a month or as often as you have the time. The more often you can do it the faster the leaves will be composted. Micro-organisms create their own heat so the process can continue even when weather gets colder as long as the compost pile is aerated.

If you do not want to take the trouble to compost your leaves you can get the same benefit by purchasing bark dust or other organic materials and incorporating it or mulching with it.