PRIMETIME NEWSPAPERS WEEKLY COLUMN
Week of November 19, 2001
By Calvin Finch, Conservation Director, San Antonio Water System,
The leaves are dropping from deciduous trees.
There are many options for leaves.
In the old days we would rake up the leaves, make
large piles, and after the kids played in the piles for a few
days, they would be burned or bagged for the landfill. Today,
however, it is environmentally inappropriate to waste leaves
by burning or bagging them. Burning is illegal in most communities
because of air pollution and sewer concerns, and bagging should
Leaves offer small but important amounts of nitrogen,
potassium, and micro-nutrients for your soil. More importantly,
leaves and other organic material contribute to soil structure
and water conservation. If they are bagged to be hauled to the
landfill this potential resource becomes a waste material that
must be hauled, and then fills valuable landfill space. It is
harder and harder to find someplace to dump our wastes; leaves
do not need to be part of the mix.
Instead of bagging your leaves consider the following
Let the leaves decompose on the lawn where
they drop. Unless the leaves are deep, they will decompose
and disappear within a month or six weeks. To speed up the
process, mow the leaves. The smaller pieces decompose very
- Collect the leaves by raking or with your mower's bagger to
use them as mulch. Three or four inches of leaves over the roots
of newly planted shrubs and trees saves water and controls weeds
with the effect of increasing the plant's growth rate. The same
leaves on the roots of established plants reduce watering, keep
soil cool, reduce chlorosis and some diseases, and help control
- Leaves make ideal paths in between rows in your vegetable
garden. The covered rows provide all the benefits of mulch described
in the previous option, plus prevent compaction when you must
walk in the garden. The leaves can be tilled into the garden
soil to improve soil structure every season.
- Compost the leaves. Place the leaves in a pile, add a few
cups of nitrogen fertilizer and the leaves will decompose to
a homogenous, clean soil enricher that will work great in your
flower pots or garden beds. For gardeners wanting to get serious
about compost, the Texas Cooperative Extension offers detailed
instructions on how to make compost in several weeks time. Send
a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Compost, 3355 Cherry Ridge
Dr., Suite 212, San Antonio, TX 78230
- Give the leaves to the neighbors. If you are not interested
in taking advantage of the resource yourself, share the leaves
with a neighbor who can use the leaves in their garden.
All the leaves are useful, including pecans and oaks. The chemical
and physical structure of leaves is different depending on species,
but that only means that some decompose more slowly and the nutrients
contributed are different.
If you are not impressed with the environmental and gardening
arguments, consider the practical issues. It costs tax dollars
to haul the leaves and it uses scarce landfill space for a material
that can stay in our yards. Someday, we may have to put new landfills
dumps in the neighborhoods that produce the most garbage.