Jeff Green | Oct 27, 2005
Feature Article - October 27, 2005
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Feature ArticleOctober 27, 2005
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A gardener's secret weapon
by Dale Odorizzi
All year long, the leaves nurture our trees, feeding them and making the trees grow strong and beautiful. They provide us with cooling shade. In the fall, they turn breathtakingly beautiful as our yards and countryside turn all shades of red, yellow, orange and gold. It is after all this beauty has passed and the leaves have fallen to the ground that they become the Gardener’s Secret Weapon. Many people look at a yard full of leaves and see only one more backbreaking chore to be completed. Gardeners look at a yard full of leaves as a source of health for their gardens next year.
If you have never built a compost pile, leaves provide a terrific base for that rich, black compost that your garden craves. In time, all leaves will eventually break down. If you want to speed up the process, chop up your leaves with your lawn mower. To further speed up the decomposition process, layer your leaves with "green" material—fresh grass, living weeds, manure or your kitchen waste. At this time of year your leaves may greatly outnumber your "green" material so in the summer as weeds and grass clippings abound, layer last year’s leaves with the fresh green material. To further speed up the decomposition process, the real work begins—turning the compost. This is a tiring chore that I do once per year and feel like an archaeologist as I usually find a garden glove or some tool lost during the year.
Another good use for leaves is for winter protection. Many of our borderline plants need a little helping hand to get through the winter. Roses and Butterfly bushes are the two that I layer with a couple of feet of shredded leaves. The leaves protect the plants from the deep cold but more importantly, they help prevent the plants from suffering from the freeze thaw cycle—days when it shoots up to 200C then drops way below freezing. Those warm winter days do more harm to your plants than any of the deep cold. Leaves also act as a good insulator for garlic and other bulbs planted in the fall. If you are using your leaves for winter protection, be sure to put them on after freeze up. If they are put on earlier, many critters—voles and mice—will make them a nice cozy home and will dine on the bark of your precious plants. Shredded leaves are better to use because they do not become a heavy, solid mass like full leaves will.
Shredded leaves can also act as a protective mulch on your summer gardens. Spread the leaves 3-4 inches thick. This mulch will keep the moisture in your garden, greatly reducing your watering needs. The mulch also helps prevent the ever-present weed seeds from germinating. If a weed does germinate, it is very easy to pull it from the garden, through the leaves. Over time, the leaves will break down and help to amend the soil.
If you don’t want to be bothered making compost from your leaves, you can still use the leaves to improve your soil. Each fall, I till bags and bags of shredded leaves into my heavy clay soiled vegetable garden. The leaves, with the help of earthworms and frost, break down over the winter, helping to lighten this heavy soil. If your soil is sandy, the leaves add vital organic material that helps to add nutrition and hold the water in the soil. You can also do two or three passes with your lawn mower and grind up the leaves and if they are not too deep, simply leave them on your lawn. Over the winter, they will break down and be drawn down into your soil, helping to feed your lawn and the trees planted in it.
Every fall, when I see bags of leaves standing on the curb waiting for garbage pick up, I feel sad for all of this lost nutrition. I have not as yet done like one of our Master Gardeners and made the midnight raids on these treasures to get more Gardener’s Secret Weapons.
For garden information call Margaret Inwood at 256-3141 or Lloyd Strachan at 257-8362