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Wednesday, December 17, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 11/1/2000

Mowing leaves creates a natural compost source

Mow 'em - don't blow 'em.

Instead of getting blisters from raking all those leaves from your yard, chop them up with your mower instead.

Recent studies by Michigan State University turf scientists indicate that mowing leaves back into the lawn can give the turf a little natural compost. It can also cut down on the amount of leaf litter local municipalities have to remove.

William Strouse of Riga, Mich., both rakes and mows his leaves. William Strouse of Riga, Mich., both rakes and mows his leaves.
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Many lawn-maintenance companies and golf courses are mowing the leaves into the turf rather than blowing them into piles and sending them to the local waste collection area, says Greg Lyman, turf grass environmental education specialist at MSU.

It is easier to chop up the leaves when they are dry, he adds.

“You should mow over them two or three times to get the pieces very small. You want the leaf debris to sink down into the turf.”

Mow them at least once a week with a mower with sharp blades. “The finely chopped leaves quickly sift down into the turf, and you will never notice the leaves were there,” he says.

If you have sandy or gravelly soil, this practice will definitely boost the amount of organic matter in your lawn,” says Mr. Lyman.

Leaving big, wet leaves on your grass can kill it, so you need to get them out of the way. Thick leaves, such as those from an oak tree, may not chop easily. So instead of spending the next week with your mower, trying to cut those leathery leaves into itty-bitty pieces, sweep them off your turf with a rake.

SHREDDED LEAVES

Leaves are a valuable commodity, so don't just give them away. They can make a cozy winter insulator for flower beds after they have been shredded. Mow the leaves into a single row in your lawn, and then rake them into bags. Use this to mulch around any perennials planted late in the season. They can also be used to protect roses over the winter.

You can shred leaves with your string trimmer too. Toss them into a tall metal garbage can. Plunge the weed trimmer into the leaves like a blender and chop them into tiny bits. Think of safety first and have full-body “armor'' while you do this. Leaf debris can fly out of the can, so wear eye protection and a long-sleeved shirt.

MAKE YOUR OWN COMPOST

If you don't want to mow them into your turf, you still shouldn't let those valuable leaves go to waste. You can make bags of sterile compost by following these simple steps:

Toss your leaves into big black plastic bags. Once the bags are full, add a shovel of soil and a cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer. Tie the bag closed and roll it around your yard a few times to mix the ingredients. Poke about 20 holes in the bag for air circulation and let it sit in a sunny location. Once a month, roll the bag around to stir things up a bit.

By the time spring arrives, you will have bags of freshly composted leaf mulch to put on your new flower beds.

Just for fun, while you've got those leaves in a big pile, don't forget to take a dive into them. Just make sure the neighbors aren't looking!

Kelly Heidbreder is The Blade's garden writer. E-mail her at getgrowingkelly@aol.com.



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