Fall Leaf Management

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It’s at this time of year that we clearly understand why another term for autumn is “fall”! The leaves slightest breeze brings down a shower of leaves from shade and ornamental trees. Now comes the time to decide how to deal with them.


The most fun thing to do is to rake them into big piles for the kids to jump into and scatter around again. At least it’s the most fun for the kids! The least enjoyable is raking and bagging them. What are the options?


While bagging for curbside garbage pickup is an option, it is not the best way to go. The problem is that all those bags of leaves from across the community are sent to the landfill wasting space in it and wasting a landscape asset.


One option some folks take is to do nothing and just let the leaves remain all winter. This is not good for our southern grasses. A dense layer creates a dark, damp, stagnant zone where diseases can proliferate, harming the turf.


Burning is not really the best option either. When younger, I thought it was cool to have a burning leaf pile, but neighbors who suffer from allergies or asthma often find that burning leaves aggravates symptoms and makes breathing difficult.


Mowing the leaves in place is the easiest and most simple means of disposal. Many folks seem hesitant to recycle leaves back into the lawn, fearing they will create thatch or other problems. But research done in many parts of the country has shown that mowing leaves into the lawn does not cause any problems.


The best results are obtained by using a mulching mower which cuts and recuts leaves several times. The smaller the pieces, the quicker the microbes, which are active all year ’round, can attack and break down the leaves into humus.


You may need to make 2 or more passes over larger tree leaves to get a finely shredded product. I often wait until I think all the leaves are on the ground, but that may not be the easiest method. The deeper the layer, the more difficult it is to get them all shredded.


Sheet composting is an option for garden areas where you place a layer of shredded leaves over the surface of the soil and let them decompose in place. A thin layer of cotton seed meal will speed the decomposition. Alternatively, you can also rototill the layer of leaves into the soil.
Mulching is a great way to deal with excess leaves. You can place leaves in the pathways of your garden and flower bed. They will decompose in place, reduce weed problems, and enrich the soil, all at the same time.


Another use for shredded leaves is as a layer of mulch in perennial and shrub beds, and around the base of young trees. Just make sure that larger leaves are shredded first. Large leaves when wet can mat into a nearly impermeable layer, restricting air and water movement.


For those who are blessed with an abundance of pine straw, a truly simple solution exists: rake and use as mulch. While most folks around our part of the world may think it unseemly to use in that manner, the majority of southern states, from Louisiana to the Atlantic, use it all the time.


The Angelina County Extension office will be holding a seminar on southern bulbs on Monday, Oct 20 at 6:30 pm. Chris Wiesinger will be speaking on bulbs that have naturalized and thrive in our area. Cost is $10 per person, kids come free.


Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.


Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu.

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