Where to leave leaves…

leaf pileWhat to do with all those fallen leaves?

There are several answers, according to Joe Pajor, assistant director of public works with the city, and Roger Lyon, director of not-for-profit PRoKansas Recycling Center.

You can leave them where they are. They’ll decompose and fertilize your lawn. If that doesn’t work for your aesthetics or you fear it will kill the grass, you can mulch mow them into little bits and speed up the decomposing process.

If you decide to rake them up and bag them, you can bring them to Brooks C&D Landfill where you’ll have to pay a minimum $15 for up to 1,200 pounds of waste. The landfill has an area to dump organic waste for composting — then just reuse your plastic bags or toss them in a different part of the landfill.

Last option is to put them at the curb with your other trash — a common practice from what I’ve observed. Since there are many companies, you’ll have to ask whether your trash service accepts leaves and where they go.

For more detail and smoother writing, see the column after the jump by Anne Calovich, The Eagle’s green thumb…

How to never rake again

I got a kick out of walking the neighborhood late Halloween afternoon, just ahead of the trick-or-treaters, and comparing the state of leaves from yard to yard.

I came upon one man who had parted the leaves like the Red Sea in front of the costumed children: The leaves had been banished to two small squares of lawn near the street, separated by the sidewalk. The leaves covered the grass except for a border of bright green blades around the sides, which told me that this was a new lawn.

The sunny day was perfect, the air still, and the leaves obeyed their master. He told me he intended to vacuum them up the next day so that the grass wouldn’t be smothered. And then deposit the bags of leaves on the curb.

I next saw a woman who was scooping up leaves with two big plastic paddles that looked like cymbals and depositing them into a leaf-bag holder. She was in good humor about it, even though the yard was large, the leaves were many, and the trees still held a heavy harvest. Her bags of leaves also were destined for the curb.

Some people were leaving the little ghouls to fend for themselves: A section in front of one house was ankle-deep in crispy, mousy-brown leaves. It was one of the scarier things I ran into on Halloween.

The next day was another in a succession of ideal days we’ve had, and I planted myself outside in the sun to read and enjoy some peace and quite at a friend’s house. But the neighbor ran a leaf vacuum for what seemed like hours on end. I hoped she had ear plugs in her ears; I certainly wished I had them.

I later talked on the phone to my elderly dad, who bemoaned dragging heavy bags of leaves to the curb. I tried to suggest that he have the lawn man mow them on the lawn, but Dad insisted that he’d tried this himself and it didn’t work. For one thing, he doesn’t like the look of shredded leaves on the lawn. For another, he’d waited until the leaves were too thick before mowing. Of course it didn’t work.

All these examples and a growing realization that nature provides its own solutions to our “problems” have made me appreciate less-painful, money-saving, environmentally friendly ways of dealing with leaves.

And I assert: We need never rake again.

Think about it: The leaves fall in the fall, and they break down during the rest of the year, becoming fertilizer, until it’s time for them to fall again. Why do we fight them so?

“Research has proven that mowing leaves into your lawn can improve its vigor, and observation shows that unraked leaves in planting beds don’t smother shade-tolerant perennials,” Terry Ettinger writes for Fine Gardening.

Here are some options:

„øMow the lawn while you can still see the grass under the leaves. The leaves will shred and break down over the winter, providing fertilizer. Ettinger recommends setting the mower at a 3-inch height and mowing at least once a week during peak leaf fall when the lawn reaches a height of 4 inches (for fescue). “Leaves shred most efficiently when slightly damp, so mow after a light dew. If you follow these simple guidelines, you will never rake another leaf and improve the quality of your soil.”

Sounds easier than raking to me. And, look, Mom: no garbage bags.

„øLet fallen leaves prepare a garden bed in shady areas where grass doesn’t grow. Ettinger said he created planting beds where the leaves naturally collected on his shady property. “It’s been 15 years since I’ve raked a single leaf dropped by these trees,” Ettinger says. “Instead, the leaves settle among the hellebores, epimediums, Japanese forest grass, hostas and spring-flowering bulbs, where they decompose over time, just like on the forest floor.”

„øRake or blow — or let blow — the leaves into areas where you want to kill off weeds or grass. Put layers of newspaper on the ground first to get even faster, better results.

„øShred leaves either with a vacuum/shredder or the mower and use them as mulch in flower beds and around trees and shrubs.

„øMake compost. You can do that in a compost bin, or see the accompanying box for a couple of different ways of composting directly in the spots where you plan to plant.

Of course there are always a few people — I’m surprised they don’t do it in secret, at night — who blow or rake their leaves into the street. Of course plenty of leaves make their way there on their own, but adding to them is against city code. That’s because those nutrients that are good for the soil when leaves decompose — phosphorous and nitrogen — are bad when they wash into streams and rivers, Ettinger writes.

“These excess nutrients contribute to algae blooms during the summer, which result in lower oxygen levels, making it difficult for fish and other aquatic species to survive.”

The next time I took a walk in my neighborhood I saw the woman who had been scooping up leaves with the paddles back at it again.

“Aren’t you sore?” I asked, thinking of my own bad back.

“You take ibuprofen right away and then you don’t swell up,” she answered, smiling.

And the leaves kept falling.

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com.

How to compost

In place with leaves

Here are Terry Ettinger’s instructions for pile composting for mixed borders:

  1. Rake the leaves into loose piles or in wire bins about 4 feet square within your borders.

  2. Mix in a few shovelfuls of soil, and add 20 to 30 gallons of water to aid decomposition.

  3. Pull the piles or bins apart in the spring, and spread the decayed leaves throughout the border.

  4. Cover the decayed leaves with a 1-inch-deep layer of fresh mulch.

Here’s how to do sheet composting for annual beds:

  1. Rake your leaves into the empty beds, and shred them with a lawnmower.

  2. Sprinkle the leaves with a 1-pound coffee can’s worth of 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of garden.

  3. Turn the leaves, and water thoroughly to disperse the fertilizer, which speeds decay.

  4. Turn the leaves again in spring, and plant right through the remaining clumps, which will provide nutrients as they decompose.

— Fine Gardening