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What to do with all those leaves?

November 10, 2011
By Stephanie Bethke-DeJaeghere , Marshall Independent

It is about this time of the year that we all have to sort out what to do with leaves.

I think most use the idea that raking them up and taking them out to the compost pile is the best place for them. And, especially if you have access to that compost pile in the springtime, adding it back onto your garden is a great idea.

I have, over the years, used straw or hay for cover on perennial plants in my yard. This year I am trying using leaves on top of my strawberries to see how this works. The wet weather and the heavy snow on top of the straw that I used last winter just about did in my strawberry bed this past year. This year they are covered with leaves.

This, too, will compact but it is worth a try to see if it is as bad as this past year.

Leaves can add a lot to your garden in many ways. I found some interesting information on leaves and the nutrient content. This information is suppose to apply to lawns but it may give you a peek into what kind of nutrition leaves can add into your vegetable garden or perennial garden.

Jeff Gillman writes, "Fallen leaves are very variable in nutrient content. Some leaves have 1 percent nitrogen, and some can have almost 3 percent (these are mostly from leguminous trees). In terms of phosphorus, fallen leaves tend to have around 0.1 percent, though once again, it's very variable.

For the purposes of this post I'm going to stick with nitrogen.

For 1,000 square feet of grass yard it takes about a pound of nitrogen per year to fertilize, even with a low input variety. In a heavily wooded lot it wouldn't be odd to have around 100 pounds of leaves fall in a 1,000 square foot area.

At 1 percent nitrogen, the leaves would provide enough nitrogen for the grass, but that would probably end up being a moot point because the leaves would have a good chance of smothering the grass.

So what I'm wondering is, if we planted trees which were legumes, and had higher levels of nitrogen, and if we chopped up the leaves so they weren't as likely to smother the grass (using a lawnmower or whatever) could we provide enough nitrogen per year for a healthy low input lawn? Personally, I think so.

We would need to keep these leaves off of driveways and sidewalks because this is where they would do their worst in terms of contaminating water, but if they were just in yards - I think it might work."

So leaves can possible contribute more to your garden (or lawn) then just another way to help loosen the soil. The earthworms also love them which also helps to loosen up those problem spots in our gardens.

For more information on gardening, you can reach me at



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