Homeowners take on the job of ridding their lawns and landscapes of fallen tree leaves in different ways. But don’t just throw those leaves away. They are a valuable resource in gardening.
Leaves make good mulch when placed on the soil surface beneath and around shrubs, trees, perennials and annuals. Make sure to maintain the recommended 2 to 3 inch depth.
Mixing leaves from several different species of trees can make better leaf mulch. This practice alters the texture of the finished product and allows for better penetration of water and air. Leaves of the same size tend to mat together, producing a shingling effect that can shed water and decrease soil oxygen.
Leaves are major ingredients for use in composting. They can be used whole, though decomposition is more rapid if chopped or shredded before being added to the pile.
Composting methods vary. For information on constructing and maintaining a compost pile, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County or visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep323 to access the publication, “Compost Tips for the Home Gardener.”
An alternative to traditional composting of leaves is to find a hidden corner of the yard or garden and pile them up. They will eventually decompose and can then be used as a soil amendment for flower, shrub and vegetable gardens.
There’s an easier method for handling leaves but it requires an area of the vegetable garden or landscape that is not currently in use. Simply haul the leaves and spread a thick layer over the entire area, then till to mix them with the soil. Soil microbes will help decompose them, adding organic matter. After several months the area can be used for establishing the desired vegetation.
With this method, the leaves are handled only twice – during loading and unloading, instead of the several times that conventional composting requires.
Native areas that include a tree canopy should not be raked, allowing fallen leaves to remain. This provides natural mulch. This is the way that natural recycling has worked in native plant communities for thousands of years.
A light covering of leaves in the lawn can be mowed, simply leaving the shredded leaves in place on the lawn. This technique is most effective when a mulching mower is used. This may be the most efficient and easiest way to manage leaf accumulation during times of light leaf drop or if there are only a few small trees in your landscape.
So, instead of putting all those leaves curbside in plastic bags to be hauled off, use them to benefit your landscape and garden.
Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County, January 21, 2015