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Autumn Leaves - Myth and Reality

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Published on: Oct. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

leaves off.

False. A rotary mower, run in a spiral clockwise pattern over a leaf sprinkled lawn (edge first), will shred most leaves into bits, which, like grass clippings, will be washed down onto the soil between the grass blades during the next rain. Earthworms will turn leaf bits and grass clippings into black humus topsoil around the grass roots.

Leaves only need to be raked off the lawn if the leaf layer is so thick that it blocks out the sun. If so, rake them into 2-foot thick doughnut-shaped piles around trees and shrubs where the grass is too shaded to grow well anyway.

Trees respond well to the leaf mulch like that found on the forest floor. Hose the pile once with a gentle spray to keep leaves from blowing away. Or sprinkle straw or pine needles on top to hold leaves down in a wind.

Leaves mixed half and half with grass clippings make good compost.

True. To get fast results, do not pack down but pile in a heap between 4 feet high and 8 feet high. A bin is not essential but may help keep leaves from blowing. Keep pile moist and turn daily. A smooth, rounded tine pitchfork speeds the work.

After 3 weeks of the natural rise in temperature in the center of the pile, you may spread the compost on your garden. By then it should have cooled down. Or leave it for 4 months, turning it once. It won't smell bad as long as air can get to the center of the pile.

It is wasteful to put leaves and grass clippings out for the trash truck to take to the landfill.

True. At present rates of use, Missouri's landfills will soon be full. About 20 percent of the material once sent to landfills from St. Louis County was leaves, grass clippings and other yard waste. A Missouri law now forbids landfilling of yard waste. Landfills now compost truckloads of yard waste and sell the compost.

Labor and hauling costs to large scale compost sites are considerable. Save money, don't bag leaves and grass. They're so valuable for adding humus to the soil that the home owner should use them on his own grounds. I've done it for 30 years.

Last winter I had 10 tons of compost dumped at the end of my driveway. I spread it on my garden and flowerbeds and raked it onto my lawn an inch thick. My lawn now is thick, lush and green.

The National Academy of Sciences places a high priority on soil and water quality.

True. Most of the soil in this country has lost 65 percent of its organic matter. Much clay soil in Missouri, having an organic matter content of 1.5 percent, can absorb only one-half inch of rain in a 24-hour period. Increase the organic matter content to 5 percent and it will absorb a 6-inch rain in a 24-hour period.

Every 1 percent increase in organic matter increases the water holding capacity by 100 percent. Keep the rain that falls on your fields and lawns from running off into flooding rivers. To help your soil hold that rain where it falls, give it rotted leaves, rotted sawdust and grass clippings.

The Environmental Protection Agency is talking about restoring the carbon content of soils, because a soil rich in fungi and plants will take up a great deal of carbon dioxide. Each 1 percent increase in the carbon content of soil helps to delay the greenhouse effect by 10 to 15 years.

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