Mulching Thoughts

I have to bag my leaves now?

It’s not too early to start planning how you’ll handle this change for the coming Fall.

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The City of Richmond has just recently decided it can no longer send trucks out to vacuum up the leaves that cover residents’ lawns in the Fall. To some, particularly those on the Southside of the city, this is a tremendous inconvenience. Perhaps it should be seen as a tremendous opportunity instead.

Leaf mulch is one of the best “free” mulches you can use in your garden and it helps to create a healthier yard.

From an environmental and labor intensity perspective, the hours you spend raking or blowing, then bagging the leaves only to send them to a landfill makes quite the carbon footprint, and leaves your back sore. You’ve likely been told that, in addition to looking tidier, the fallen leaves would kill your grass. This fairy tale has probably sold more rakes, leaf blowers, and bags than anything else. Removing the leaves removes important nutrients. Homeowners then have to go out and purchase, in an alternative format, chemical fertilizers to replenish their lawns. It’s a vicious cycle.

It’s true, if your lawn is smothered in leaves, the grass will suffer. I don’t advocate leaving them as they’ve fallen. Instead, consider these alternatives:

Mow them into the lawn. Most lawn mowers now are mulching mowers and can chop the leaves up into tiny pieces that will quickly decompose and add nutrients back into your lawn. I’ve found that I may sometimes have to make two quick passes with my mower for the leaves to disappear into the grass, but those 10 minutes are much easier and environmentally friendly than using a gas powered blower for 20-30 minutes to get them into a pile to bag up.

If you don’t want to mow them into the lawn, use your mower bag to gather up the shredded leaves with the grass, then put them into a compost pile. Come spring time, you’ll have a great source of natural plant food for your vegetables or spring flowers.

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If you have to bag up your leaves, WORX has a great leaf shredder that can go over a stand supported bag (preferably a bio-degradable bag) that will enable you to have to purchase far fewer bags. I’ve found it reduces my leaves to one-third of their original volume. If you prefer, you can just put your leaves into a trash can (metal may be preferable) and use a weed-eater to shred them.

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Another alternative is a leaf vacuum that does just what it says: it sucks up leaves, mulches them and blows them into a bag that hangs off your shoulder. This is great for getting leaves out of tight spaces. Most are electric, so have long extension cords on hand. Be warned, they don’t work well on Magnolia leaves, but then nothing but a good rake really does.

One final option that works out well is to blow or rake your leaves into your border and then cover them with mulch. This way, you maintain your tidy look while keeping the nutrients in your beds.

Fallen leaves, in additional to providing a physical layer of organic materials above ground, provide food, shelter, and nesting or bedding materials to a variety of wildlife. It also acts as overwintering protection for a number of beneficial insects which aid in pollination, reducing compacted soil, and act as food sources to birds and other animals.

And we haven’t even commented on microbes yet.  All plant life depends on microbes, which are really the most important “crop” you can grow. The chemicals you put on your lawns and plant kill these microbes, which makes your plants more dependent on the chemicals – a continuation of the vicious cycle you can easily stop just by using your leaves instead.

On a final note, if you are a serious gardener  looking for free sources of organic matter to use as compost, mulch and soil-building materials, try letting your neighbors know they can drop-off their leaves at your house. Then go to town on your beds!

So, the question remains. Why spend money on mulch and fertilizer when you can make your own? Look at the city’s decision to forego leaf pick-up as an opportunity to create a healthier yard, happier plants, and a microbe heaven. Come Spring, your yard will thank you in bigger blooms, greener grass, and healthier shrubs and trees.

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Images: pixabay and flikr CCO!

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