Saturday, November 19, 2011

Fall Leaf Cleanup

The last little tomato
I was up on my roof last week blowing leaves out of the gutters with my leaf blower. After I was done I spent a minute looking out over the neighborhood and my own garden and contemplated the summer. Neighbor Ed’s garden was a huge success I would say. Now there isn’t much left except the stems from his tomato and pepper plants and maybe a stray watermelon. I have one little green tomato on my plant that probably won’t be there much longer, especially if we have a hard freeze like they are predicting.  
Leaves are a real problem this time of year. So many of them and what do you do: burn them? Bag them? Hope they blow into the neighbors yard? My neighbor down the street rakes them all on to his garden and lets them decompose over the winter and then tills them into the soil. This adds organic matter and nitrogen.

Before the mower...
I am doing something a little different. I have been blowing the leaves onto the lawn and then running them over with the lawn mower. The mower chops them up into dime sized pieces and does a good job of spreading them around. Over the winter they will start to decompose and next year the worms will slowly move the organic matter down into the soil.

Neighbor Dave has been mulching and bagging and so far he’s had about 15 bags of leaves out for the trash guy to take. I haven’t had any bags. I feel pretty good that I have kept a similar amount of leaves out of the land fill and here in my own yard to add to my own soil. I suppose you could make the argument that I used up some gas and caused some pollution by running my lawn mower but I would have been mowing the lawn anyway.

...after the mower
So why is it important to add organic matter to our soil? Well, no matter if your soil is heavy clay soil or sandy and well drained, all soil can benefit with the addition of organic matter. Organic matter breaks up heavy clay soil making it better for plant roots to move through the soil and become established. When soil is too sandy, organic matter helps it retain moisture. Organic matter also slowly changes the soil pH to more acidic, which most plants like. Our soil tends to be too alkaline, which reduces the plants’ ability to take up available nutrients. Adding organic matter to the garden or to perennial beds is easy because we can top dress with compost but getting it into the soil of an already established lawn in more difficult that’s why mulching leaves and leaving on the lawn is a good idea.

I haven’t yet put a winterizer fertilizer on my lawn and I will probably do so next week. The major holidays are a good reminder for yard chores and Thanksgiving is the reminder for winterizer. Putting fertilizer on in the late fall may seem odd since the grass is going somewhat dormant but it actually gets the lawn ready for spring. And Thanksgiving is probably a good time to ready the mower for winter as well.

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