In the Garden:
Lower South
October, 2008
Regional Report

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The forest floor provides the definitive example of the value of fall's fallen foliage to building a rich, healthy soil for growing plants.

Harvest Season for the Soil

The arrival of cooler weather assures us that fall is here and "leaf season" is just about to begin. Now I suspect that many of you look upon the annual deluge of leaves with a bit of dread as it means spending some weekends at the end of a rake cleaning up a lawn strewn with the litter of tree leaves.

I agree raking can be work; however, the cooler temperatures are a welcoming opportunity to head outside for some light physical activity. I also must confess that I do very little raking.

Easy Collecting
My lawnmower spends most of the year with the discharge chute closed to ensure that the clippings are mulched back onto the lawn. When fall arrives I open the chute and go around the yard blowing the leaves in towards the center as I mow to create a windrow that can easily be raked up when I'm done. To make things even easier, rather than go to the trouble of stuffing the leaves into trash cans or bags I use a tarp like a dustpan. Then I simply drag the tarp to wherever in the garden I want to deposit the leaves.

You see, I look upon fall as a sort of harvest season for the soil. When I see those leaves turning colors (okay, turning brown -- after all this is the Lower South) and about to drop from the trees I know that the annual harvest of garden-enriching organic matter is about to begin. There is nothing like free organic matter for getting us gardeners all giddy inside!

Black Gold
I just can't get enough leaves! They are needed for mulching tree and shrub beds, flowerbeds, and vegetable gardens. There are also needed for composting into the "black gold" that can turn almost any garden soil into the perfect foundation for a successful garden. You see, leaves were made for building soil. Oh sure they help feed the tree through the growing season, but then by a wonderful design they fall to the ground to begin a gradual recycling process that ends up building soil and feeding the trees from which they fell. Visit any forest and dig around on the forest floor for an example of this wonderful system in action.

Experts tell us that 50 to 80% of the nutrients of tree takes up during the season are contained in its leaves. When these nutrients are unlocked through the composting process plants are fed a natural, slow-release fertilizer with the perfect blend of nutrients.

During the decomposition process these leaves transition from their former state to leaf mold (a half-decomposed state) and then on to humus. All the while the soil is provided organic matter to enrich it and help build structure. The biological activity of the soil is kicked into high gear with the addition of organic matter, making your garden soil even more enriched for promoting plant health.

Can't Get Enough
It takes so many leaves to make it through a season. My yard doesn't produce nearly enough even though I have several very large trees. I find myself driving through the neighborhoods this time of year in search of more bags that non-gardeners around town of have kindly stuffed with leaves and assembled at curbside for me.

So don't let another season go by without gathering all the leaves you can. Remember this is the window of time in which we need to gather enough to last all through the winter, spring and summer months! Take advantage of nature's free soil building bounty of this fall -- the harvest season for the soil.


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