Although Mother Nature did not impress us with a spectacular fall display of red, orange and gold this year. She did, however, bless gardeners with an abundant amount of precious organic material in the form of leaves. Fall is the time when leaves begin to collect on our lawns, flower beds and in our gutters. However, before you pack them in a yellow plastic bag for the garbage collector, consider these options for recycling your fallen leaves.
Make a direct application of leaves to your garden, annual flower bed or other bare areas. Applying 6 inches to 8 inches of leaves and then tilling them under will not only build soil, but will also improve your gardening success next year. Research has shown that leaves directly applied in the fall will break down by the following spring with little to no effort on your part. Not only does this save time, but it is also easy to accomplish. For an added boost, spread about 10 pounds of 10-10-10 type fertilizer over 100 square feet of area before tilling. The added nitrogen will assist in the decomposition.
Another option is to add fallen leaves to your compost pile. Decomposed leaves are rich in organic matter and humus. Once incorporated, they increase the soil's ability to grow and produce plants. To properly construct a compost pile, mix equal parts fallen leaves with fresh green material such as grass clippings. Water the pile well and allow Mother Nature to take over. For best results, turn the pile every four weeks and add materials as they are collected. Take care not to let the pile dry out as the composting process will stop.
The third and final use of the leaves is to simply mow them where they lay. Research conducted by Michigan State University revealed that 6 inches of leaves mowed in place did not harm the grass.
To be successful follow these guidelines:
First, mow over the leaves two or three times to mulch them finely.
Second, make your third and final application of lawn fertilizer for the year.
Finally, water it in well. What you will find next year is that the leaves are gone and the grass is lush and green.
Fall is usually the time of year when we gather the leaves that blanket the lawn only to wake the next morning to find that a new batch has fallen. This year, try using the leaves to build soil and increase your gardening success. Apply them directly to the garden, compost them or mow them where they lay in the yard, and let Mother Nature do the rest. And if none of these options sound good, let the winter winds simply blow them away.
Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more gardening information, call the Master Gardener Hotline at 843-7058 between 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday or Friday.