Don’t Bag It – Leaf Management Plan

Don’t Bag It – Leaf Management Plan

Don’t Bag It – Leaf Management Plan  by Sandra Scott (a New McLennan County Master Gardener)

There may be many looming problems that are difficult for individual households to alleviate, but there are some we can: We can relieve landfill congestion and help hold down waste management expense. While we are at it we can improve our soil and save ourselves money.

At least 20 percent of the solid waste generated by Texans comes from grass clippings, tree leaves (half of the total) and other landscape wastes. Bagging these materials and placing them into the curbside garbage collection system uses valuable landfill space, removes nutrients from the environment, and costs cities and the people of Texas in increased taxes and service fees.

Managing Leaves

Cross-section of mulched plant showing proper depth.The “Don’t Bag It” Leaf Management Plan is an ecologically sound program designed to significantly reduce the volume of leaves entering community landfills, thereby extending their life and saving tax dollars. The tree leaves that accumulate in and around your landscape represent a valuable natural resource that can be used to provide a good source of organic matter and nutrients for use in your landscape.

It is an established fact that the trees in one acre of forest shed as much as two tons of leaves each fall. You may complain, as you lean wearily on a leaf rake, that your neighborhood outdoes any forest, but be thankful. Hang on to your leaves. And if your neighbors don’t want them, hang on to theirs. It makes no sense to send valuable treasure to the dump.

In forests, pastures and other natural settings, tree leaves and other organic wastes form a natural carpet over the soil surface that conserves moisture, modifies soil temperature and prevents soil erosion and crusting. In time bacteria, fungi and other naturally occurring organisms decompose or compost the leaves and other organic material, supplying the existing plants with a natural, slow-release form of nutrients. You can, and should, take advantage of this same concept.

Leaves are truly a valuable natural resource! They contain 50 to 80 percent of the nutrients a plant extracts from the soil and air during the growing season. When we rake, bag, and dispose of this resource, we either deprive our plants of needed nutrition or we spend money on fertilizer.

Leaves that have been mowed or run through some other type of shredder will decompose faster and are much more likely to remain in place than unshredded leaves. Oak leaves, for example, are very slow to break down unless shredded. If your lawn has a light covering of leaves, just mow them and simply leave them in place. A mulching mower is best for this technique. In fact, during times of light leaf drop or if your landscape has few trees, it is probably the most efficient and easiest way to manage leaf accumulation. As an option to raking a heavy leaf fall, a lawn mower with a bagging attachment provides a fast and easy way to shred and collect the leaves.

Mulch reduces evaporation from the soil surface, inhibits weed growth, moderates soil temperatures, keeps soils from eroding and crusting, and prevents soil compaction. As organic mulch decomposes it becomes compost and releases valuable nutrients. Use this mulch in vegetable gardens, flower beds and around shrubs and trees.

Apply a three- to six-inch layer of shredded leaves around the base of trees and shrubs. In annual and perennial flower beds, a two- to three-inch mulch of shredded leaves is ideal. For vegetable gardens, a thick layer of leaves placed between the rows functions as a mulch as well as an all-weather walkway that will allow you to work in your garden during wet periods. Mulches are especially beneficial when used around newly established landscape plants, greatly increasing the likelihood of their survival.

Improve Your Soil

Work your mulched leaves directly into garden and flower bed soils in the fall. This allows time for the leaves to decompose before spring planting. Adding a little fertilizer to the soil after working in the leaves will speed up their decomposition. A six- to eight-inch layer of leaves tilled into a heavy clay soil will improve aeration and drainage. The same amount tilled into a light, sandy soil will improve water- and nutrient-holding capacity.

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