Fall Leaf Management

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
Leaves will begin dropping any day now. If you typically remove leaves from your property, and especially if you dispose of them in the landfill, please reconsider. Fallen leaves are a valuable nutrient resource that should be captured and returned to the land. Here are some tips on how to do that without being overwhelmed by the process.

No matter the ultimate destination for the leaves, the most helpful step is to simply mow, mow, mow them up into small pieces. This step not only lowers the volume of collection and storage needed, in some cases it can eliminate the need for any further action as long as the turfgrass is not completely covered up in the process.

If mowing alone doesn’t take care of the leaves, the next step is composting. There are two basic approaches to this. The easiest thing to do is simply pile the leaves up and let nature break the leaves down over time. Since it can take several years for leaves to break down in this scenario, it’s not ideal for many people because of the space and time required.

Pile composting can be hurried along with a couple of simple inputs. Begin with some type of containment area. This can be anything from pallets to custom made bins to simple hoops made from wire fencing. When piling up the leaves, water liberally and add some nitrogen as the pile gets bigger. A simple commercial product such as blood meal (12-0-0) or urea (46-0-0) are two examples. This is also a good time to use up older commercial fertilizers that perhaps has gotten too clumpy to use in a normal garden situation.

If you want to speed up the composting process, begin with the steps outlined above. Then use this area as the “feeder” pile and start additional piles (usually smaller) where you can turn them regularly and add additional nitrogen as needed. In additional to N sources mentioned above, kitchen waste, manure, and any remaining garden leftovers are also good sources. Also, remember to occasionally toss in a scoop or two of garden soil. In addition to boosting needed microbes, the soil will help with moisture retention.

No matter which method you choose to use, you can find a use for the leaves in the landscape in the springtime. Materials fully composted can be incorporated right into the planting area or applied as a topdressing. Leaves not yet fully broken down can be used as mulch or garden pathways. It’s even possible to use a heavy layer of leaves to help smother out bermudagrass. (Note: this is not for the faint of heart gardener and requires regular scouting to make sure the bermuda is regularly removed as it crawls into the leaves)!

For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

Oklahoma State University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, genetic information, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability, or status as a veteran in any of its policies. See Legal Page for more info.
Article Archives