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2014-01-09

Leaves - an overlooked resource

By TCEQ

Despite good advice, some gardeners ignore the treasure right under their feet. Fallen autumn leaves are a valuable natural resource that can provide organic matter and nutrients for your landscape. Leaves contain 50 to 80 percent of the nutrients a plant extracts from the soil and air during the growing season. However, at least 20 percent of Texas' yearly solid waste comes from tree leaves, grass clippings, and other discarded organic materials. Bagging these raw materials for curbside garbage collection unnecessarily uses landfill space, removes nutrients from the environment, and costs more in taxes and service fees.
Approximately half of all landscape waste is composed of tree leaves and debris. The "Don't Bag It" Leaf Management Plan aims to significantly reduce the volume of leaves being thrown away. Contrary to raking leaves, the most important landscape practice may be to allow the rich-in-minerals and organic-matter leaves to blanket your soil. Even when frozen, soil bacteria feeds on leftover leaves and decay, delivering carbon and nutrients to fertilize next spring's growth.
Here are four ways to reap the benefits of your fallen leaves:
• Store raked leaves next to your compost pile so you can combine them with grass clippings next summer. This grass/leaf mix makes excellent compost. Leaves also make an effective soil conditioner when added directly to your compost along with fruit and vegetable scraps.
• If you don't already have a compost pile, toss the leaves into a simple circle of wire fencing. Water well and leave them to decompose and next year you'll have a rich, organic soil amendment.
• Shred the leaves with a mower, or put them into a garbage can and chop them up with a string trimmer. Use this mulch in your garden to enrich the soil and protect overwintering crops.
• Use a mulching mower to chop leaves, allowing most of the flurry to fall back into the grass and decompose. Use any remaining mulch as shrub borders where it will protect plant roots from severe cold.
• Learn more about recycling your fallen leaves at Texas A&M AgriLife Earth-Kind Landscaping. For additional composting tips, see Take Care of Texas.

Pictured: Photo courtesy TCEQ
Don't bag those leaves and send them to the landfill. Fallen leaves make excellent mulch and compost for your yard and garden.