Recycling Leaves in the Yard
Autumn is a wonderful season until
it's time to rake leaves. This year, recycle your leaves at home rather
than burning or sending them to a municipal compost site. Burning
pollutes the air and makes breathing difficult for people with respiratory
disorders. Instead of sending leaves to a commercial or municipal
compost facility and then buying them back as compost next year, reap
the benefits directly by using your own leaves in a variety of ways.
In heavily wooded areas with native stands of trees, let the leaves
lie as they fall. The trees need the natural leaf litter. Leaves
enrich the soils nutrients and quality for maximum root growth.
However, if you have lawn beneath the trees, the leaves must be
removed or the grass may be smothered.
As you clean up the garden in fall, till or dig leaves into vegetable
and annual flowerbeds to improve the soils quality and tilth.
Shredded or chopped leaves make wonderful mulch around trees, shrubs
and perennials. Leaf mulch is an attractive dark brown and slowly
decomposes releasing nutrients to the plants. Prevent matting by
shredding or chopping leaves. A lawn mower with a bag attached is
an easy way to chop and pick up leaves simultaneously. After the
soil freezes in late November insulate roses and perennials with
crinkly dry leaves instead of straw.
Oak leaves do not make soils in northern Illinois too acidic and
may be chopped and used as mulch or tilled into gardens.
In addition to falling leaves, vegetable and bedding plants are
dying and beginning to decompose as the growing season draws to
a close. Now is the ideal time to start a backyard compost pile.
It is easy, economical and does not smell.
Backyard composting offers more than just a way to get rid of plant
material. Compost is an excellent way to improve yard and garden
soil, especially the clay soil dominant in our area. Adding organic
matter such as compost loosens clay soils, improves drainage and
slowly releases nutrients. In sandy soil, compost holds moisture
longer and provides nutrients.
By following a few simple rules your compost project will be successful.
Start by constructing some type of bin to hold the materials. Bins
may be as simple as poultrywire cylinders held up with a few stakes
or as elaborate as specially constructed wood and wire bin systems.
Piles need to be a minimum of 3 by 3 by 3 feet for best decomposition.
Bins must be constructed so air can reach the composting materials.
All organic matter eventually decomposes, but mixing green and
brown materials together in a ratio of half green and half brown
will speed the process. Green materials, such as grass clippings
or fresh green plant parts, supply nitrogen. Brown materials, such
as dead leaves and plants, are high in carbon. Mixing the two assures
good conditions for the microbes and fungi that actually decompose
the plant material.
The smaller the plant materials are, the faster they will decompose.
Shred, chop, or mow before putting them in the bin.
Moisture and air are required for the composting process, but too
much or too little of either one can cause problems. Compost materials
should be about the wetness of a wrung-out sponge. Anaerobic bacteria
dominate wet compost piles and create bad odors. The solution is
to add air by turning or mixing the pile. If too dry, the materials
will decay extremely slowly. Keeping the pile covered is one way
to control moisture levels.
Turning every week or two mixes the materials, speeds decomposition
and is a good way to monitor progress. Finished compost is well
worth the small amount of effort. For more information contact your
local University of Illinois Extension office.
October - November 2000: Recycling Leaves
in the Yard | Fall Garden Wrap-Up Checklist
| Preparing Lawns for Winter | Pumpkins