Express-News Weekly Column
Saturday, December 1, 2001
Submitted by Calvin Finch, Ph.D., Manager of Conservation, SAWS,
Do you have pecan, bur oak, and red oak leaves
all over your lawn? There is no need to rake and bag them. Run
the lawn mower over the leaves and they will decompose quickly,
adding nutrients and soil-building organic material back to
If you just can not stand the look of leaves on
the lawn, even for the three or four weeks that it takes for
them to decompose, you still should not send them to the landfill.
Leaves are too valuable to the environment to bury them in equally
valuable landfill space. Use the leaves as mulch.
Three or four inches of leaves over the root system
of newly planted shrubs or trees increases the growth rate up
to 40% over plants with lawn grass growing up to the trunks.
Mulch reduces evaporation from the soil (water conservation)
and keeps the soil cool, which reduces the likelihood of cotton
root rot. Mulch also reduces weeds, which makes it unnecessary
to use the string mower near the trunk of the tree.
Leaves are my favorite mulch for the vegetable
garden. Four inches of leaves in the rows between the veggies
reduce weeds, keep the soil cool and conserve water, but they
also allow you to walk in the garden without excessive soil
compaction. Till or shovel the leaves into the soil after every
crop and you are refreshing the soil with organic material each
time. Remember to add some extra nitrogen to the soil whenever
brown or coarse organic material is incorporated into the soil.
I use two cups of lawn fertilizer per 100 sq. ft. and it seems
to work well. The extra nitrogen reduces any nitrogen deficit
when the leaves start to decompose.
Another good place for leaves is in a compost
pile. A wire enclosure six feet in diameter makes a great depository
for leaves, weeds, fine prunings, grass clippings, and garden
refuse. If you have about half green and half brown material
and you wet the pile every week, it will form compost in two
or three months. If you are more casual about the effort and
do not worry much about ratios, air or moisture, the pile will
decompose in six months. Again, a little nitrogen fertilizer
can replace the green material. Compost, the product of the
compost pile, is a homogenous, clean smelling material that
makes a great potting soil or soil additive. Use it as part
of your raised bed garden mix for superior production of flowers
Even those of us with large lots and large gardens
do not produce enough compost to meet our needs. This time of
the year through the winter and early spring, compost is especially
useful as a lawn dressing. Applied one-half inch deep over the
lawn, it is a great tonic for a stressed lawn. Combine the compost
application with aeration and the compost infiltrates into the
root area to contribute to water penetration, gas removal, and
nutrient efficiency as it addresses compaction.
Purchase compost for top dressing from Garden-Ville,
Fertile Garden Supply, Living Earth Technologies, or your favorite
organic material supplier. SAWS biosolids compost is usually
the least expensive material available at these suppliers and
it is great as a lawn dressing.
I do not recommend using the top dressing with
sand added, unless you are as interested in leveling the lawn
as revitalizing it. Sand is an inert material that does not
contribute anything to the process, except mass.
If you still do not want your leaves, give them
to a neighbor. Anything is better than sending them to the landfill.