Nasty Leaves

Garden Clippings for November 18, 2017

Raking those leaves is a nasty chore.  The job starts in late October with Willows, Poplars and Ash falling earliest.  In mid-November when Maple leaves have dropped the work is about half way done.  Oaks are the nastiest because they begin falling in November and keep dropping through much of December.

It is not uncommon for some Oak leaves to persist until Christmas, at which time we have run out of both steam and cooperative weather so we let it go until spring.

But we should not be too quick to curse those falling leaves.  We are our own worst enemy because we insist on picking up every fallen leaf as if we were vacuuming the living room carpet.

A walk in the bush teaches a lesson that we already know.  In the dense bush where there are no rakes and leaf blowers, leaves fall and cover the forest floor.  All winter long these leaves freeze, thaw, dry, get wet, blow around and are stepped on by wild animals.  The forest floor serves to insulate the roots below, keeping the soil moist and warm in order to protect the delicate ecosystem under our feet.

In good order leaves continue to rot until they are no longer recognisable and look like soil.  By this time leaves are almost fully composted and are adding valuable nutrients benefitting trees that produce more leaves.   It is both a simple and complex circle of plant life.

When we city dwellers rake up leaves and put them in plastic bags destined for the municipal compost site, we interrupt nature’s order resulting in a slow depletion of soil in our own backyards.  Sandy soil becomes sandier and clay soil becomes heavier.  In due time it becomes necessary to replenish our soil.

The best way to rejuvenate tired soil is by adding organic matter.  Compost, triple mix, manure, and peat moss will do the job just fine.

The best time to add organic matter is fall.  Like a good pot of tea that needs to be steeped to perfection,  nutrients in organic soil are not immediately available to plants and need time to break down and become fully functioning.  Adding compost in fall will add fertility and texture to soil in spring when plants need it most.

Adding organic soil amendments to flower and vegetable gardens is easy.  Add a generous layer of organic material on the surface of the soil.  Next, till the soil so the new material is mixed with the existing soil.  Take the cue from farmers who plough down manure and corn stalks in the fall rather than spring.

Adding organic soil amendments to grass is not as easy.  Spreading a thin layer of screened compost in late spring when growth is active will work fine, but adding a thick layer will smother and harm the growth of turf.  The easiest way to add fertility to lawns is by adding commercially prepared lawn food.

Lawn fertilizers are effective and convenient.  Granular fertilizers are higher concentrated than organic soil amendments and nutrients are available to roots almost immediately.