Turn fall trash into treasure: What to do with fall leaves – North Texas e-News

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With fall on the horizon, many trees are beginning to drop their leaves. There are lots of options that will benefit the soil, make it healthier, and give you the opportunity to grow a beautiful garden or landscape. 
Up to half the nutrients put into the trees end up in the leaves, so why not use that to your advantage! Hopefully you will see one or more ways below that will encourage you to give it a  try:

1.      Sheet Composting: This is a relatively simple practice that is an attempt at mimicking the natural soil-building process in natural areas and forests. It can generate healthy soil  and is relatively low maintenance.
To get started, lightly layer your garden or unplanted ground area with leaves and simply rototill them into the soil. You can do this with a motor-powered tiller or simply hand turn  them into the soil. They will decompose and leave the soil with many nutrients as well as attract beneficial soil organisms and decomposers such as nematodes or earthworms. And, if you want to give your soil an added boost, you can add some nitrogen-rich fertilizer to speed up the decomposition. (NOTE: Make sure to use only a light layer of leaves at a time. This will make it easier to till into the soil. Too many leaves will make it difficult to begin the mechanical breakdown process.)
2.      Blanket the garden: Lay a thick layer of leaves over your garden area and leave them to decompose over winter. This will insulate the soil, provide food for the underground ecosystem in your soil, and adds nutrients from the leaves breaking down. Simply layer them and leave them. About a week or two prior to planting in the Spring, you can either  till them into the dirt or remove them to allow the soil to warm up. Your soil will be richer in nutrients and ready for planting!
3.      Mulch: If you planted a Fall garden, you can use your Fall leaves as a type of mulch around the plants. This will keep the root systems insulated if there are cooler frosts and  add an additional layer of nutrients in addition to holding in the moisture, attracting earthworms and other beneficial nematodes.
4.      Compost: There are lots of great reasons for composting - mainly it is an inexpensive way to remove organic debris from your home or yard, as well as to attain great quality soil with improved nutrients and improved drainage, even for our local North Texas clay  soil.
Most fall leaves can be the main source in your organic compost pile or can be added to  your already-existing organic compost pile. Be sure to keep the ratio at a 2:1 ratio {(2 parts carbon (brown) to 1 part nitrogen (green)} and NEVER put diseased plants or leaves into your compost pile. Remember to keep your pile moist and turn it using a pitch fork every week or so. By Spring, you will have healthy organic dirt to mix into your garden beds. 
Other important tips: Do not use Beech, Oak, Holly or Chestnut leaves for composting. These  leaves are lower in nitrogen and calcium and higher in lignin. While you will be returning the leaves back to the earth, the ratio will not enhance your garden or landscape, and can make it difficult for garden plants to grow. Also, never use leaves from Black Walnut or Eucalyptus trees  as these will prevent seeds from germinating. 
So, wait no longer and begin using your Fall Leaves to prepare for next Spring’s beautiful  garden! 
Source: Texas Agrilife

Grayson County Master Gardeners Association is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization sponsored by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Reach us by email at [email protected], by phone 903-813-4204, our web page https://txmg.org/grayson/, or our Facebook group.

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