1579 Fanshawe park Road east, London - (519) 455-8873

Weekly Gardening Guide: What Can Brown (matter) Do For You!?

October 23, 2015


Hi Friends! Looking out my bedroom window this morning, I noticed that the maple outside my house had begun to clog my gutters - always a fun job for the homeowner (or the homeowner's teenage son, if you're so fortunate). However, this made me think of a popular question from our customers: What do I do with my leaves? 

Well, lets take a look at our options shall we!? 

First of all, what you need to know about fall leaves is that they are very high in "Brown Carbon". This is highly rich organic material found in already dead leaves and plant tissue. It is an excellent addition to soil and compost. It is not very high in nutrition, but it "conditions" the soil much like compost to improve its moisture holding capability. 

So, there are several ways to use your leaves this fall. One is to compost them, they break down quickly and will improve the overall quality of your existing compost. Simply incorporate it into your compost pile between layers of soil or finished compost. Turn it over as often as possible and by spring you will have a beautiful rich compost! 

The second method is called "Leaf Mold". This sometimes happens naturally (to a lesser degree) in many gardens when thick piles of leaves are left untended over the winter - you know the old "I-raked-them-off-the-lawn-but-I'm-too-tired-to-bag-them Pile". Leaf mold is a product of decomposition by fungus. This differs from compost which is a mixture fungal and bacterial decomposition. Bacterial decomposition requires more moisture, and produces more heat. Fungal decomp is considered a "cold" process. 
Leaf mold is very easily recreated and enhanced by following a couple of very simple steps: 
1- Bag your leaves in a *garbage bag* (not a paper bag). Pack them down tightly and tie it off.
2- Poke holes in the side of the bag with a screwdriver (small holes, just enough for drainage and airflow)
3- Soak the leaves inside the bag by sticking the end of the hose into it.
4- Leave the bag in direct contact with the soil so that earth worms can enter the bags through the holes. 
5- Turn it over every 6 months or so. Re-wet it as often as needed.
6- After 12-18 months your leaf mold is ready to go! It should flake into 1x1" nuggets that can be incorporated into gardens to add moisture and beneficial organic carbon to your beds! 
7- important note: Leaf mold does not *replace* compost, it *enhances* it... compost is full of rich nutrients and minerals, leaf mold is not. 

The 3rd method is to simply pile the leaves onto your garden beds as mulch. Layer the leaves about 4-5" deep. They will act to insulate and buffer the gardens from the cold all winter, as well as increase the moisture holding capabilities of the soil as they break down into the spring. Run them over with the lawn mower first to speed up decomposition. In the spring, just incorporate the remaining leaves into the soil and voila - soil conditioned! 

The 4th method - and the easiest - is to simply mulch them into the lawn using the mulch attachment on your mower. This should be done with some discretion since *excessive* leaf mulch can choke out the grass, and incubate snow mold. However, as a rule, as long as you can still see the green of your grass blades and the majority of the leaf mulch has settled below the canopy of your lawn it will break down into the soil and provide a number of benefits for your lawn the following spring! 

For more info or with questions don't be afraid to give us a call at the store: (519) 455-8873

Happy Raking!

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