Homeowners may find leaves a good garden resource
The chill in the air is a welcome change after yet another scorching summer. Although tree leaves typically do not start falling until this time of year, many Oklahomans experienced leaf-covered lawns earlier than normal due to the extreme heat.
Many of the trees lost a good portion of their leaves because of the heat we endured this summer, said David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension consumer horticulture specialist.
"Although homeowners may not have as many leaves to deal with, something still needs to be done with those leaves that hung around and are now falling to the ground," Hillock said. "Many homeowners simply rake and bag the leaves, but if so, you're missing out on a valuable garden resource. By finding a way to use the leaves in your landscape, you also save valuable landfill space. As an added bonus, the leaves are free."
One way to use the leaves is to shred them and use them in a compost pile. Leaves can take a few months or up to a couple of years to compost by themselves. To speed up the process and have a good finished product, add nitrogen sources such as green plant material or fertilizer, make sure there is enough moisture and turn the leaves often to ensure a good supply of oxygen.
Hillock said the leaves also can be used as mulch for shrubs and trees in the landscape. A layer of two to three inches is sufficient.
"Homeowners also can till the leaves into a vacant vegetable garden plot to improve aeration and drainage," he said. "Doing this in the fall will allow enough time for the leaves to decompose before it's time to plant your spring garden."
For those who may not have the time to rake leaves, mowing the leaves works well, too. Simply attach the bagging unit to the mower to collect the shredded leaves. The chopped leaves are then ready to use as mulch or be put into a composting bin.
Even if homeowners do not have a garden and have no need to use the leaves as mulch, they can still be a valuable resource.
"Put your lawn mower on the mulching setting and mow normally," Hillock said. "The chopped leaves are returned to the soil and provide important organic matter and nutrients."
Make sure the leaves are dry before attempting any type of shredding or mowing. Damp leaves can clog gardening tools such as shredders, vacuums or choppers.