Hello fellow readers,
Last week’s chat about how leaves change color inspired several to ask what to do once they litter the ground. First, consider them as free vitamin supplements, not litter, as they are packed with nutrients that trees absorb from our good earth. John from Hope recalled years ago when folks collected leaves and burned them into a huge pile. Holy moly! I had forgotten about the excitement as a kid when that day came, but then the coughing and itching eyes came. It is a health hazard to burn leaves (no surprise), let alone an environmental concern and fire danger if not controlled. In most towns, it’s illegal to burn leaves or have an open fire without permission.
No sneaking a smoke either on the premise that ash can be good in the garden. Leaves are packed with moisture; hence they burn slowly, causing large amounts of airborne particles which can be inhaled deeply into your lungs, sometimes causing long-term respiratory problems, especially in children, the elderly, or those with asthma or heart problems. Leaf smoke has hazardous chemicals such as carbon monoxide and benzopyrene, believed to be significant factors in lung cancer caused by cigarette smoke. Yup, smoking leaves should come with a warning label.
Put leaves to good use in the garden and lawn. Add a 2-3 inch layer of chopped or shredded leaves around plants. You can top-dress with a thin layer of mulch if you don’t care how they look. If you don’t have a leaf shredder, let the leaves pile up on the lawn and drive over them a few times with the lawn mower, keeping some chopped leaves on the property. As with leaves used for garden mulch, they will provide nutrients, weed suppression, moisture control, and moderation of soil temperatures. Shredding leaves prevent them from packing together into layers that won’t allow air or water to penetrate and reduces their volume dramatically.
Composted leaves, known as leaf mold, added to your garden is another grand use of your colorful confetti of jam-packed vitamin supplements. It’s all a matter of how you look at things and how you use them!
Garden dilemmas? AskMaryStone@gmail.com and your favorite Podcast App
There’s more to the story in Episode 5 of the Garden Dilemmas Podcast:
Link to Why Leaves Change Color 101 and Leaf Mold -Better than Mulch
Column Updated 10/23/22