After raking leaves in the fall, put them to good use with leaf composting. In the spring, the resulting mulch spread on the lawn will supply an insulating boundary between the soil and the air. Leaf compost contributes organic matter as it decomposes, adding nutrients to the soil. Use leaf compost instead of commercial mulches to save money and help the environment with natural soil additives.
Leaf compost used as lawn mulch improves the condition of the soil by supplying organic matter. Leaf compost aerates the soil and improves root growth by holding nutrients in the soil until plants can use them. Other benefits include water absorption, which reduces the amount of watering needed, a reduction in soil compaction after abundant rain, erosion protection and a consistent soil temperature. In addition, leaf compost will retard growth of pesky weeds that invade the lawn. (See References 1)
Turning leaves into compost for the lawn is a safer and more environmentally friendly method of leaf disposal. Leaf burning pollutes the air, and the smoke aggravates people who have breathing problems. Sending leaves and other yard waste to the dump wastes landfill space and produces explosive methane gas during the decomposition process. Leaves are inappropriate for combustion in an incinerator because they contain a high amount of moisture that can hinder the burning process. Leaf incineration also emits gases that help to form nitrogen oxide, a main element of smog. (See References 2)
Begin leaf composting in the fall by gathering leaves and chopping them up with a mulching mower or shredder. These smaller pieces will speed up the composting process and take up less space. Create a compost pile or construct a bin in the backyard close to a source of water. Place the chopped up leaves inside the bin, leaving space for air circulation. Every few weeks, turn the pile with a rake or pitchfork to circulate the air and moisture. In dry weather, spray water on the leaves to moisten. (See References 3, page 10) Fungi and bacteria will begin breaking down the plant tissue, and to finish the composting process, worms, beetles and centipedes will later appear (see References 4). The compost will be ready to spread in three to six months when the mixture becomes dark in color and breakable with a consistent texture and pleasant earthy smell (see References 3, page 10).
In the spring, after the ground has warmed up, apply 1 to 2 inches of leaf compost mulch around the bases of plants and flowers (see References 4). Add additional layers of mulch to existing beds when the ground warms thoroughly (see References 1, page 2). Place up to 6 inches of mulch around trees or shrubs. Use leaf compost as a top dressing for the lawn by mixing it with sand and spreading the mixture over the entire lawn. (See References 4) When planting new lawns or flower beds, use a rototiller or dig 1 to 3 inches of compost into 6 to 12 inches of surface soil (see References 5, page 4).
- United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service: Mulching
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Yard Waste Composting
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Greenscaping Your Lawn and Garden
- United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service: Composting
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Greenscaping
- Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images
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