Friday, October 21, 2011

The Dirt on...

...Glorious, Wonderful, Leaves

Carolyn Herriot, respected BC Master Gardener, photographer, and lecturer, dedicates a page in her book, 'A Year On The Garden Path:  A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide' to leaves.  Here are some of her 'Leafy Tips'. 
  • Large trees such as oaks, maples, sycamores and chestnuts are wonderful sources of nutrient-rich leaves.
  • Store leaves in fall for layering into compost throughout the year.  TIP:  A circular cage of fencing wire, or four posts wrapped with chicken wire, is a simple space-saving way to store leaves.
  • A heap of leaves will break down into a pile of rich, crumbly leaf mulch in one year (faster if you turn the pile).  Shallow-rooted plants such as rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas, pieris, skimmia and heathers just LOVE leaf mulch.
  • Don't position leaf piles under trees or hedges where fibrous roots will grow into the pile.  TIP:  If you must, put landscape fabric down first as a barrier. 
  • To reduce a pile of leaves, spread them out on a driveway and run a lawn mower over the pile.  It will reduce to a 1/10th of its volume, and can then be sprinkled onto beds, where leaves will quickly break down into the soil. 
  • If you have pine trees, compost the pine needles separately.  they take up to three years to rot down, but produce an acidic leaf mould that is excellent for ericaceous (acid-loving) plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, pieris, hydrangeas, blueberries, heathers, and camellias. 
  • Don't save leaves showing signs of disease, such as rust, black spot or mildew, since pathogens present may survive.  Dig a hole and bury them in the garden, where microbes will get to work destroying them. 
  • Avoid shiny, waxy leaves, such as arbutus.  They are slow to break down due to a waxy cuticle. 
Great, timely advice! 
caged leaves
image from The Modern Victory Garden

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