In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
December, 2006
Regional Report

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This pile of leaves is just waiting to be hauled to the village composting site.

Mulch With Leaves for Free

The village where I live is in the process of finally banning burning and has purchased a leaf vacuum truck. All the homeowners can rake their leaves to the curb where the truck will vacuum them up and then take them to a local composting site. It sure makes me feel great to see this recycling effort.

I don't send my leaves to the village composting site because I use every one. I used to beg bags of leaves from my neighbors, but I now have three acres of oaks and hickories. They provide more than enough leaves for mulching.

In years past we raked all the leaves out of the shrubs beds and from around trees, ran over them with the mower, and blew or raked them back into the beds. This year, in my quest for simplifying gardening tasks, I'm letting nature take its course and leaving the natural leaf mulch in these beds. We did clear the leaves from the lawn, and have shredded them for digging into the vegetable garden.

I also raked and shredded the leaves from my perennial beds and then put them right back on the beds for mulch. I know the usual advice is to stockpile the leaves and then apply them after the ground freezes, but as soon as the weather gets bad, I tend to come indoors for good. So, it may not be the absolute best method, but I put them on now. I've had few problems with plants heaving out of the ground, so I'm going to stick with this method.

Using the mower to shred leaves will mean sharpening the blade more often, but it's a small price to pay for excellent organic mulch. We actually keep an extra set of blades we use only for leaf shredding.

This is a great time of year to put mulch circles around any trees and shrubs that have grass growing right up to the trunk. Not only will this give you less grass to mow, but mulching as much of the root system as possible will give the trees extra nutrients as the mulch decomposes, and will protect the trunks from mower or string trimmer damage.

One of the best methods I've found is to lay several layers of newspaper down before spreading the leaves. Doing it at this time of year lets the leaves pack down a bit, and then in spring you can deal with any stray grass that comes through. Put the leaves down thickly for the best results.

Mulching the root system of mature, healthy trees with organic materials that decompose gives them a constant supply of nutrients. If you picture a forest, the trees are not fertilized by anything other than their own decomposing leaves. If a tree is planted in a lawn where the leaves are removed, they don't have the benefit of nutrients other than those supplied artificially when fertilizing the grass. Trees in this setting need fertilization occasionally.

After my trees and shrubs are mulched, I'm going to start a leaf pile with my leftover leaves (and there will be plenty). We have room to pile them and let them decompose over several years. I can dig the decayed leaves from the bottom of the pile to make my own potting soil and to use as a fine mulch for the perennial beds. Quite the benefit from a free resource!


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