Fall - It's Thanksgiving for your Garden

Every autumn when we are getting ready to dress the Turkey, perfect the mashed potatoes, green beans, and pumpkin pie, nature too is laying out her annual buffet spread for our gardens. It comes in the form of the richest nutrients from the leaves of the finest oak, maple, poplar and all the deciduous trees whose shade we enjoyed during the summer, and the colors we admired in the fall. Leaves that, if allowed to decay over the winter, would provide our gardens with the equivalent of a Thanksgiving dinner lasting into the summer, rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and all the other essential elements needed for a fertile soil. Not just that but the leaves would help build the humus too which helps retain the moisture and provides food for the earthworms, nature’s aeration machines!  

With all that said every Fall it is dismaying to see the mountains of leaves piled high outside yards in most neighborhoods and sometimes even bagged in trash bags, while the lawns look longingly at what should have been their Thanksgiving treat! The irony is not that we don’t care about our lawns, we do! We spend hundreds of dollars each year purchasing fertilizer, lime, and aerating our lawns. But when we blow and bag all the fall leaves from our yard what we are doing is almost the equivalent of painstakingly preparing a Thanksgiving dinner, then trashing it and opening a bag of potato chips for our dinner. Okay, maybe not potato chips, the fertilizer we apply to our laws is high in nutrients, so maybe we opened a box of protein bars, but we did throw away a healthy and nutrient rich elaborate Thanksgiving dinner! 

The comforting news is that the solution is probably easier than most because this one genuinely requires less effort than what we already do. Imagine, if instead of the hours spent raking and blowing the leaves meticulously off our lawns and collecting them on the sidewalk we just let them be and ran our mower over them instead. Most mowers in the market are mulching mowers which means the mowers lift the leaves and shred them into tiny bits as they cut the grass allowing the shredded leaves to fall in between the grass blades. While leaves left on the lawn can form a blanket and damage the grass, once mulched they are beneficial to the lawn. The easy rule of thumb is that the grass should be visible after mulching.  Soil analysis conducted using the Mehlich-3 tests have shown that the potassium and phosphorus content in soil with 10% mulched leaves is almost double that of soil without it. 

The leaves that we do wish to rake from our yards can still be gathered on the side and easily mulched and bagged by running the mower over them. The shredded leaves can be spread either in our flower beds or even in the areas that we usually cover with pine needles for a nice natural landscaping effect (see image) that enriches the soil while blocking the weeds.

While leaf mulch will not give the lawn the deep green color that comes from the generous use of chemical fertilizers, it does assure a rich emerald green and for those who still long for the deeper color it can at the very least reduce the need for chemical lawn fertilizers. Even the new lawns can benefit from the combination with mulched leaves producing the humus needed for the long term health of the lawn. 

So will your lawn be getting a Thanksgiving treat this year or will it be a bag of chips?

Written by: Aryaman Shukla