Raking leaves off of your the lawn always seems like a lot of work. Wouldn't it be alright to leave them there to let them decompose on their own just like in the forest? Well, in forested areas, leaves fall where they may and break down at their own pace. They drop around understory plants and form a protective layer over the soil. In urban areas, and in particular your lawn, it is a different story. Too much fallen leaf build up on your lawn can cause problems. But there are ways to still use this valuable free source of organic matter.
No leaf is the same
Different types of leaves break down at different rates. Pecan foliage falls a little earlier and crumble up rather easily. Oak leaves, which are quite prevalent in our area, are very slow to decompose. They tend to matt together and retain moisture and also block out light. Not a good situation for grass, especially in shaded areas that might already be struggling with thinning turf due to lack of sunlight. Damaging fungal diseases readily develop in dark moist areas such as this.
We all know how many bags can accumulate from raking leaves in large yards. Because they are a free source of valuable organic material, it's worth it to consider composting some or all of the leaves if you have space to pile them up instead of bagging them. Remember they will be quite slow to break down on their own. You can speed the process if you turn the pile regularly to provide some oxygen. Adding grass clippings or other quick decaying items like coffee grounds and vegetable wastes will hasten their break down.
Mow your leaves with your lawn
As we've mentioned before, you can use a mulching mower over leaves on your lawn to shred them into small particles that trickle down through the grass blades. The nutrients from this organic matter feed the soil beneath your lawn and improve the microbial activity for overall soil health. Depending on how thick the leaves are, you may need to rake the larger bits away after mowing.
Leaves as mulch
You might find areas of your landscape where leaves can be used under shrubs or hedges. If you're worried about appearances, it might work best to try this in less visible spots since this is not the most favored look in urban areas. You can add a layer of mulch over the leaves for a more orderly, finished impression.
Just use the blower
Most of us resort to the easier method of leaf clean up: the leaf blower. And while it’s tempting to use blowers to avoid the elbow grease, know that blowers are big contributor to soil compaction in your lawn and shrub beds. Leaf blowers are best used on hardscape areas such as sidewalks and patios. If you use a blower on your lawn or in landscape beds, try to keep it to a minimum and don’t use the blower on the high setting. Get out the hand rake now and then to manually remove leaves from the lawn and beds to reduce soil compaction and burn off a few extra calories!
A little effort is worth the rewards of a healthy landscape that resists disease and rewards us with beauty, not to mention clean air.
Compost is often referred to as garden gold. This is because, with nothing but time and the proper conditions, the natural process of decomposition slowly turns your kitchen and garden waste into a vital mixture that rebuilds and sustains life in your soil.
Earthworms are your garden’s best friend.
What are worm castings?
Worm castings, which are in fact worm poop, are some of the highest quality decomposed material left behind when earthworms burrow underground. Their movements improve the soil structure, creating valuable air spaces between particles that allow water and oxygen to easily get to plant roots. Worms are a sign of health and they can also bring about vast improvements in neglected soil if you set up favorable conditions to nurture them.
Most of us in the Dallas Ft. Worth area have heavy clay soils which are typically compacted and low in organic matter. The nutrients in clay are unavailable to plants. This calls for more diversity to make nutrients accessible to support healthy plant life. Excellent conditioners such as worm castings can rejuvenate beneficial microbial activity and promote better moisture retention.
Noticed mounds of this stuff in your lawn? It’s worm poo- and it’s gold! Worm castings provide excellent nutritional value to your soil.
Keep out the chemicals!
You can encourage natural worm populations by gardening organically, even if your only garden activity is mowing the lawn. Simply avoiding chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, which contain salts and other ingredients that are harmful to earthworm populations, will make your landscape a more inviting place for these garden workers.
Another easy step you can take to nurture the life in your soil is to allow a build up of leaf litter in certain areas, such as under foundation shrubs. While you need to clear leaves from your lawn to keep it growing properly, you can mow over your leaves in fall to shred them into smaller particles which will slowly break down, adding organic matter which nourishes your lawn. Other factors like watering deeply and adding mulch to bare areas go a long way in creating a healthy environment.
As part of our Soil Building program, worm castings are added to your soil in January, May and July for a boost of nutrients. Choosing our organic soil building program is an effortless way to bring vitality to your landscape. We help you have the kind of environment that is important to you. Understanding that soil is the basis for all plant growth and that our air quality is improved by healthy plants, we see how a small change accomplishes much more than we realize.
Many of us might remember to fertilize lawns in early fall, but we often take our established trees and shrubs for granted and forget to give them special care. Spring is typically the only time most people think to provide fertilizer for the landscape. However, at this time of year, plants will utilize the nutrients you provide in a different way than they will in springtime.
Why feed in fall?
There are numerous reasons our landscapes need attention in the autumn. We are well aware that summer temperatures can be scorching in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Summer heat causes rapid breakdown of nutrients in the soil. Taking simple steps to give your entire landscape proper nourishment needed after this stressful period can rebuild roots and other plant tissues damaged or destroyed by stretches of drought as well as insects infestations.
While our summers are almost always long and hot, winters weather can fluctuate. Some years are mild with cold temperatures lasting only a few weeks at a time. However, it is not unusual to experience severe ice storms in Texas with heavy damaging sleet and fluctuating temperature extremes in a single day. Shrubs and trees that have suffered drought and other stresses during summer are much more susceptible to damage during these winter storms.
Don’t trash those leaves!
When we blow or rake away and bag up fallen leaves each year, we remove a valuable source of natural plant nourishment. While our lawns will not remain healthy if we allow heavy layers of leaves to remain on them for too long, we can allow shredded particles to trickle down to the soil surface by mowing over the leaves creating a free source of mulch. Use your mower to mulch the leaves and make the most use of them. Leaves can also be added to your compost pile or shredded up under hedges.
Leave a thin layer of leaves on grass then mow over so the “mulched” leaves add nutrients to the soil.
Keep in mind that high levels of nutrients are not necessary at this time of year and synthetic fertilizers are not recommended. The treatment we prescribe in fall as part of our year round program focused on soil building provides food for living microbe populations and encourages beneficial mycorrhizae. These organisms do much of the work for you by increasing moisture retention and decomposing available nutrients. This allows your urban environment to function and thrive in the healthy, integrated way of natural landscapes.