In the fall, I hate to see black plastic bags full of leaves lining streets. Next spring, I’m likely to see empty bags of mulch, peat moss and fertilizer waiting to be collected by the solid waste municipal workers. Of all the 42 years that I have owned a home in Maryland, I have never discarded leaves. Nor have I ever purchased a bag of mulch.
Fallen leaves are Mother Nature’s natural mulch. Upon decomposition, leaves replenish the soil with the very same nutrients that the roots of the trees absorbed. Take a walk through the forest, and you will be walking through Mother Nature’s perfect mulch. Take a look at the stately trees growing in the forest. They have never seen a drop of commercial fertilizer, nor have they been mulched with imported bark or wood chips. The trees of the forest are healthy because they recycle their nutrient waste, which includes leaves, twigs and branches that have fallen on the ground.
Ninety percent of the leaves that fall on my lawn are raked and mounded under the branches of the shrubs in my foundation planting. Or they are raked into the flower garden that has been prepared for winter by mowing down the annual and perennial plants. The mowed stubs in the flower garden help in holding the leaves in place during the winter months.
Leaves can be piled 12 to 14 inches high under the branches of shrubs without causing over-mulching. Over-mulching is not a problem when using leaves because it takes more than a bushel of leaves to make a cup of compost. However, the compost is rich in nutrients and does not contain toxic compounds, as do some bark mulches. As the leaves decompose into compost, they slowly release nutrients that are absorbed and utilized by the roots of the plants during the growing season.
We are quick to complain about the high cost of living and rising taxes. It takes money to purchase mulch and fertilizers, and it costs the county money to collect leaves. By recycling your leaves on your own property, you are reducing your contribution to the daily waste stream — thus saving yourself (and the county) money.
Sow Green Manure Now
Q I have a small, 300-square-foot, vegetable garden. It is completely tilled under now. I would like to plant some sort of green manure crop to till under in the spring. What would you suggest I plant? Is it too late in the year to do so?
–Brian Beard, Chesapeake Beach
A: The ideal green manure crop is winter rye, and it can be planted now. Sow at the rate of at least seven pounds per 1,000 square feet.
Next spring, mow it down before you try to till it under.