Autumn Leaves - Myth and Reality

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Published on: Oct. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

You can use composted leaves to improve your garden, trees and lawn.

What a waste!

Every autumn, trees rain down nutrient-rich leaves that can improve our gardens, fortify our trees and shrubs and make our lawns luxuriant. And what do people do with this bounty of nature? They rake the leaves up and burn them or, worse, bag them and dump them illegally.

Leaves make great fertilizer and wonderful mulch. They build topsoil or humus. It's a simple formula: year after year, the trees shed the materials you need to make your yard or garden more beautiful. All you have to do is use them.

Sometimes leaves require special handling, such as composting or chopping, but all leaves can be recycled. The rest of this article both tests your knowledge about leaves and provides you with the latest information about reusing leaves. See how many questions you can answer correctly.

Leaves make a good mulch to mound around trees and shrubs.

True. Spread them about a foot thick in a flat doughnut shape as far out as you like, to under the tips of the tree branches.

You can't use oak leaves on your garden because they're too acid.

False. As oak leaves rot they lose their slight acidity, and the oak leaf mold ends up alkaline. University of Missouri Extension advisors say to test your soil and add lime if necessary to raise the pH.

Foundation plantings need to have leaves raked out from under them in the spring.

False. This practice must be a holdover from pioneer days, when everything combustible, including leaves and grass, was kept away from wooden cabins because of fire danger. Moist leaf mulch under foundation plantings keeps shrub roots cool, keeps weeds down, and keeps the soil moisture from drying out so quickly.

Bark mulch is better than leaf mulch.

False. Bark mulch is a handsome ground cover and can be used anywhere away from buildings. But it contains shreds of wood and has been known to attract termites.

Keep bark mulch at least 20 feet away from any buildings. Make costly bark mulch go farther by piling leaves on as mulch first, then sprinkle bark mulch on top. Both kinds of mulch turn black as they age, give a nice appearance and add valuable organic matter to the soil.

You have to wait three years until leaves rot into leaf mold before you can use them in flower or vegetable gardens.

False. November's leaves can be dumped onto

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