Leaf litter healthy for lawns, gardens

Remember as a kid how fun it was to run and jump into a pile of leaves? Now as an adult, that fun has turned into a chore of raking and disposing of leaf litter.

But instead of wasting money on lawn bags, take a more sustainable approach and turn that litter to compost, mulch or organic matter for your home garden or lawn.

Image of leaves

Ohio State University Extension Licking County offers a number of tips for recycling leaves:

  • Dry leaves can be plowed or tilled under in the vegetable or annual flower garden to provide a source of organic matter. Shred the leaves to speed breakdown and mix the leaves intothe soil rather than leaving them on top of the ground during winter.
  • Leaves can be recycled on the lawn. Use your power mower or shredder to break the leaves into smaller pieces. A fall application of nitrogen fertilizer (about 1 pound of N per 1,000 square feet) will help speed decomposition and also benefit grass plants.
  • Leaves make great composting ingredients, especially when mixed with green trimmings and grass clippings. If you don’t have green trimmings or grass clippings, add a source ofnitrogen, such as commercial fertilizer or composted cow, horse, sheep, or poultry manure. Water just enough to moisten. The compost will heat up as it breaks down. Stir the contents occasionally to add air and allow for uniform heating. Compost is ready to be added to the garden when it looks uniformly dark and crumbly.
  • Shredded leaves can be used as a winter mulch to protect tender perennials through the coming harsh weather. To provide winter protection, apply a 3-6 inch layer of shredded leaves over the top of tender perennials after several hard freezes. The goal of winter mulch is to keep plants dormant through the winter, so it must be applied after the ground is cold and plants are fully dormant. The timing of application will vary from year to year with the weather, but generally will be appropriate sometime between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

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