Despite the expected brisk morning, the day warmed up nicely to 60 and was perfect working weather. The nice yellow fall color above is from the swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor). This oak is typically found in lowlands and along streams. Long-lived and durable, this oak can also tolerate average landscape soils and can live many years. Here it's positioned along our pond and the fall color is just starting to really peak.
We had another great Grumpy day with the fellas working on collecting leaves, bringing in spent hanging baskets, carpentry work and various odds and ends. Glenna and Marilyn helped Janice with lights and some gardening after break. Marianne came in again as a volunteer to get us ahead on the lights (hopefully). Jerry picked up many loads of debris and Larry was pulled in many directions helping others, working on the lights show and bringing in garden signs. Rick and Tony worked on woodchipping, composting, collecting mulch and graveling. I strung extension cords (pretty exciting work). Below is one of the fullmoon maples (Acer shirasawanum 'Palmatifolium') starting to really glow with fall color. I hope this one makes it thru our winter although it did make it thru the tough winter here last year.As we continue to mulch/shred leaves and apply them over our annual beds I remembered an article I wrote about utilizing leaves in the garden. It is included below:
October days in Wisconsin bring us closer to enjoying the beautiful colors of autumn as deciduous trees, shrubs and various other plants change leaf color. Yellows, golds, oranges, reds, purples and all of the colors in between can be enjoyed and are celebrated in our state. Of course the price we pay with deciduous plants is the arduous task of raking, collecting and disposing of the leaves as they clutter our yards, sidewalks and gutters. Leaves have been important in forest environments for millennia. No one is out there raking and collecting leaves in the forest! Consider utilizing your leaves “on site” as a mulch for your garden or as part of a compost pile. With minimal effort, your annual deluge of leaves can become an important part of achieving gardening success.
It is important to note that leaves should ideally be shredded for fall use in the garden. Larger leaves, if used whole in the garden may have a tendency to mat down and negatively affect the penetration of air and water into the soil. Whole leaves may also deter spring growth as new plants struggle to extend thru this layer and they can be slow to break down into the soil. Some exceptions would include very small leaves (i.e. honeylocust) that can be used directly.
Shredding or mulching these leaves will create a product that has myriad uses in the home garden. There is a wide range of equipment that will shred leaves although a mower may be a good way of producing this product as well. Mowers with collection bags should be easy but if using a side discharge mower, set it at its highest setting and position plywood or another “backdrop” to help accumulate leaves. Another option is to mulch leaves right in to your turf areas with your lawn mower. Research has shown that this activity will create a lawn that greens up faster in spring, requires less fertilization and shows more vigor, thereby reducing weed competition.
Shredded leaves have been shown to improve soil tilth (structure) when incorporated in to the soil and will improve the “water holding capacity” of the soil and also add nutrients that will benefit surrounding plant material. When used as a mulch, shredded leaves can reduce soil water losses and suppress weeds. A 2-3” layer of shredded leaves (applied after frost) used around plantings will help maintain a uniform soil temperature all winter and will protect tender root systems. This shredded leaf “blanket” will also help prevent frost upheaval caused by the thawing and freezing cycles in late winter and early spring.
Shredded leaves are a great addition to your annual beds in fall and can be rototilled right in or left to break down over the winter. Scatter a bit of soil lightly over the top of a shredded leaf layer to help keep it in place. If developing a new area for planting next spring, lay five layers of newspaper over the area, cover with 3-4” of shredded leaves and scatter loose soil over the top to keep everything in place. Most weeds will be smothered by spring and you’re ready to prepare this area for planting. A 4-6” layer of shredded leaves can also be used to improve the soil in compacted, shady areas where grass will not grow.
Consider utilizing your shredded leaves in a compost pile. You can simply compost just the leaves and in 1-2 years, you will have a product called leaf mold. Make sure your leaf pile has adequate sunlight, air circulation and moisture. Periodically flip the pile over to promote more active decomposition. This special, fungus-rich compost is a great soil conditioner and helps with moisture retention. Consider researching this technique of creating leaf mold as it is an ecologically sound way of creating a wonderful soil additive for the garden.
Shredded leaves can also be an important component in a standard compost pile. Position your compost pile in full sun or part shade directly on soil. Alternate 3-4” layers of wet, green material with dry brown material (shredded leaves). The “green” material can be lawn clippings and garden waste. Add kitchen waste to this mix but avoid putting in any meat, fish, bones, dairy products, fats, oils, pet waste, diseased plant material or hardy weeds. Mix or flip this pile every 2 weeks and don’t let it dry out. There are many resources and products that will help you learn to compost garden waste. Shredded leaves can be a great component of your “garden recycling” program so before you bag them up, ship them off or rake them away, consider their value in your garden.