As October presses on, the leaves of the trees make their descent to the earth and the cycle of life continues. As you stand in the yard with leaf rake in hand it’s enough to make anyone wax philosophical. I think on the words of the famous writer William “Rake”-speare:
To be, or not to be: that is the question.
Whether tis nobler in the yard to suffer
The foliage piles of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of leaves,
And by opposing them.
Well to be or not to be is really not a question. You’re going to have to do something about those leaves. Or are you? You could wait for favorable winds to make the leaves your neighbor’s problem. You can’t burn them anymore. I remember those days as a kid when all the neighbors would rake their leaves to the curb and light them on fire. When it came to being groundbreaking hip my Dad would compost in the garden in fall when everyone else was burning leaves curbside. I remember the eerie smoky haze throughout that old neighborhood in late October as neighbors would rake leaves into the street to burn them against the curb. Piles of smoldering leaves looked like the wreckage of some urban battlefield conflict as we navigated our bikes through the acrid and dusky streets. The smoke would swirl blocking the sun at times and burn in your eyes. Evenings spent navigating those streets had to be equivalent to smoking a pack or two of non-filter cigarettes.
I instead say take the approach that money grows on trees. The foliage is nutrient rich and organic. On our lawns we blow, bag, tag and rake them until we have rid the “problem.” But the woodland floor is happy to receive them as the cycle of life continues. A considerable quantity of plant nutrients are taken up annually by tree roots and a proportion of this is returned to the soil as leaf fall each year. The dry weight of leaves in a forest stand is approximately 3,000 pounds per acre of richness including potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, phosphorus and nitrogen. That is why I tell people if you’re going to feed a deciduous tree do it when the leaves are falling off the tree. The soil stays warm even though the air temperature drops. The roots will be able to absorb supplement nutrients October through December. Not a bad idea to help out the trees in your yard considering we vacuum the turf of this natural available replenishment we call leaves.
Leaves left matted under the cover of snow can damage a lawn. But do we need to rid ourselves of all the leaves? The answer is no. To be or not to be….well maybe. You see in the late 1990’s Michigan State University did a three year study on whether or not you could simply mow over the fallen leaves. Mowing the leaves finely back into the lawn proved beneficial for turf health. Lawn areas that received the organic goodness of pulverized leaves were healthier than those without the leaves. Research indicated that “mulching leaf litter into existing turf grass provides benefits for the soil and turf by adding nutrients, retaining soil moisture, loosening compaction and reducing weed growth.” The best time and way to do this is with multiple passes to pulverize the leaves when you can still see some green grass through the fallen leaves rather than letting leaves gather too quickly. In other words make sure to practice this over a period of weeks in October and November. Not just one time when you have to plow through a pile of leaves. Microorganisms will break down the leaves releasing nutrients and adding to the organic matter profile of your turf.
Leaf it to “Rake”-speare to create dramatic results.