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Fall Leaves

Fall leaves Aren't WORK; They're a Year's Supply of Almost Everything Your Garden Needs!
I just love this time of year--when the Fall leaves turn their beautiful brilliant colors and begin their inevitable drop to the ground. Some misguided folks think of those leaves as an onerous outdoor chore, but we good little gardeners know that those leaves are the FREE secret to having a beautiful chemical-free landscape! Shredded leaves allow you turn your kitchen and garden waste into compost: That disease-fighting, plant-feeding, soil-improving garden gold! And shredded leaves are the absolute best mulch for your garden plants; preventing weeds better than wood chips or shredded bark--and without the risk of the dreaded house-and-car-staining shotgun and artillery fungus those wood mulches often breed.

...IF You Shred Them, That Is!
Whole leaves smother any plants you try to mulch them with, and they'll just sit there cold in compost piles. Shred them up, however, and you create the perfect mulch and compost makings! My favorite way to do this is with a leaf blower. Yes, most people DO just use these machines to blow their leaves onto the neighbor's lawn. But most blowers have a reverse setting, and attachments that allow you to suck those leaves up into a shoulder bag. AND the built-in shredder minces those leaves up so much it reduces their volume by a factor of ten. You'll be able to store ten bags worth of whole leaves in just one bag! So quit blowing and start sucking!

Make compost with your lawnmower!
You always hear me singing the praises of compost: The rich, black super-soil that feeds your garden better than any chemical fertilizer and protects plants from disease better than any fungicide; all while improving your soil structure and eliminating the need for dangerous and expensive garden chemicals! Here's a great trick that allows you to clean up your Fall leaves and create perfect compost in one easy step. Just let a layer of leaves collect on your lawn, and then mow over top of them, bagging up that perfect mixture of leaves and clippings as you go. Empty the bags into an open container with lots of airflow, and it'll turn into super-premium compost by Spring! Just don't do this if chemical herbicides have been used on that lawn; those clippings are likely toxic!

Use Fall leaves to Protect Your Potted Perennials!
Do you have perennials in containers outside? If you leave those containers outdoors unprotected over winter the poor plants will turn to mush after a couple of frosts. Most people bring them inside for the winter. But our upcoming abundance of Fall leaves gives you another option to keep your potted plants happy and alive. Drag, push or shove the containers up against an outside wall of your home, any side that DOESN'T face South. Then completely cover the containers, tops and sides, with several inches of shredded leaves. Lay some chicken wire over top to keep those leaves in place, and then hide the wire with more shredded leaves. Come Spring, just dig the pots out of their leaf piles and set them back in place. No muss, no fuss!

...And to Replace that SCAREY Woodchip Mulch!
Happy Halloween! My favorite holiday! I'd say "boo", but if your landscape is mulched with wood chips or shredded bark, you don't need ME to try and scare you. Those wood mulches are more frightening than the most gruesome ghoul, especially when they breed the fearsome 'shotgun' or 'artillery' fungus. Those nasty creatures breed in wood mulches, producing spores that permanently stain cars or homes within 30 feet of the mulch. Avoid this aggravating problem by using shredded leaves instead! Shredded leaves look just as nice as wood mulches, don't breed destructive fungus, are much better for your plants, and best of all, they're free! Shred and bag up a big batch every weekend and you'll have a year's supply before you know it!

But What About Black Walnut Leaves?!
First off, yes, black walnut trees do contain a natural substance called juglone that inhibits the growth of many plants (or just plain kills them). It's contained in every part of the tree, bark, wood, leaves, but is strongest in the roots. In fact, those roots are SO 'full of it' that Dr. Paul Roth, Professor Emeritus, Department of Forestry, Southern Illinois University, warns that even if the trees are cut down, the roots will continue the walnut's "alleopathic" effect on other plants for several years. Plants noted for dying quickly within this range include such favorites as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes and blueberries; petunias, azalea, viburnum, hydrangea and rhododendron.

However, grasses, especially Kentucky bluegrass, are felt to THRIVE near the trees (as long as they get enough sun, of course). And a "FactSheet" from the Ohio State University Extension office has a two-page list of other plants that don't seem to be affected (most of this information is based on observation, not hard research), including squash, melons, beans, carrots and corn; clematis, forsythia, marigolds, begonias, viole For the complete list go to: (yay! I love em! Plant em NOW!) and zinnia; most Spring bulbs (double yay!), some daylilies, peonies and hostas; and some fruit trees and arborvitaes. The leaves? Dr. Roth says he never puts ANY in his compost pile. In fact, he uses them as a kind of 'killing mulch' to get rid of unwanted plants! (He adds that walnut leaves are also strongly acidic.)

The experts at Ohio State, however, feel that well-shredded leaves will lose their plant-harming capability after a month of hot composting. But if you ONLY have black walnut leaves going into your pile, they suggest you test the finished compost by planting tomato seedlings in it before you spread it on the whole garden. Juglone, they note, is tomato Kryptonite.

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