This time of year when the leaves are falling we can begin to reflect on what happened in the year just past. From a horticulture point of view, what did work and did not work should be on our minds as we plan for success in 1999. There are many questions we need to ask ourselves as we plan for the coming year. At the top of the list is why our landscape plants didn't survive as well as we wanted them too. Did we apply enough moisture? Did we enable the soil to absorb water into the root area of the plants? Did we mulch around the plants to conserve the moisture we did apply?
Remember those falling leaves? These falling leaves (East Texas for leaves that lie on the ground and now you've got to do something about them) can be part of the answer to the moisture problem we all experienced this past year. These red and yellow leaves are beautiful prior to their descent to the ground; however, after they've "fallin," we have some choices that can benefit our plants and us. One option is to leave them in place and hope they blow to the neighbor's fence. The problem with this option is they usually blow back on to our landscape before the winter is over.
A better option is to mow (the 90's term is "mulcherize") them into small pieces, which biodegrade faster. This is better if you don't have an abundance of leaves to deal with at one time. The powerful, new mulching mowers, designed to cut material several times by keeping it under the mower deck, can be overloaded by excess leaves. Bagging the leaves for the curb is a possibility, depending on their destination. If the bagged leaves go to a landfill, find another option; it is wasteful and overburdens these disposal areas. Many communities, however, have a public or private composting facility. Now, we're talking about an environmentally sound choice. But what if there is no composting facility in your area?
Do it yourself! Stockpile and compost your leaves and yard waste to be used in your landscape, to build your soils and mulch your plants. The containment structure does not have be fancy, just accessible to the delivery of the material to be composted. The containment structure can be anything that will hold the compost material enclosed for six months or so.
Examples of compost wall enclosures are three to four foot wire fence, snow fence or any material that will allow air movement through the walls and keep the composting material in. Grass clippings, leaves, limbs and vegetable waste can be added to the compost pile. A nitrogen source is necessary to keep the bacteria and fungi active. A cup of nitrogen fertilizer or a couple of shovels of manure at every 8-10" layer will keep the "bugs" working for you. Adding moisture and aerating (turning) the material monthly will help speed up the microbial activity.