Brown Gold

IMAGEGuest Article for the Tallahassee Democrat

Photo by Fred Q. Vroom: Brown Gold

November 22, 2013

By Ed Schroeder
The amendments to improve the fertility of the soil in your yard are conveniently and readily available on your property. They are leaves and grass clippings. We are currently in the autumn season of the year; a.k.a. fall. I suppose that’s because the leaves are falling…

It’s part of our “civilized” culture to remove them, particularly at this time of the year. There is justification for moving them because they may smother the grass. That is, if there is any grass growing under the shade of the trees in the first place. At great labor and expense, we rake them up, bag them and set them at the curb for pickup. Pickup and transport to the landfill has a price attached to it too; both monetarily and environmentally. We are, in one way or another, wasting valuable resources.

“No one ever fertilized and old growth forest,” as the saying goes. The nutrients for the plants and trees that are growing there come from organic matter that, as it decays, releases the vital nutrients and fertilizer that is needed to sustain the forest. It’s “On the spot” recycling. This is what nature intends for your yard.

So what is a homeowner to do with all that yard waste? Well to begin, change you mindset and start referring to it as yard “debris” or even better, “brown gold.” Now rake or blow the leaves into your shrub beds and back under the trees; especially if grass isn’t growing there. Some gardeners refer to this as “sheet composting.” A four to six inch layer is all you need. Over time the leaves will settle to the recommended two to three inch layer. Remember to pull the leaves back a few inches from the base of the shrubs, trees and plants to allow for good air circulation at their base. This will reduce the possibility of rodents, insects, and disease from attacking the base of the tree or shrub.

Mulch has many advantages. It cools the soil, helps to retain rain water and irrigation water, improves the soil, snuffs out weeds, and ultimately fertilizes the plants and trees that are growing there.

You can also collect and compost the leaves. Composting doesn’t have to be complicated. Just a simple pile is all you really need. More involved methods of composting simply speedup the process. If you have a bagger on your mower, you can reduce the size of the leaves as you “vacuum” them up; smaller sized pieces decompose faster. In a year you will have nice black crumbly compost to use around your annuals, perennials and vegetables.

Now if you are not already convinced to keep “brown gold” on your property and out of the waste stream, consider this:

Each bag of leaves is worth three to ten dollars. This is because you pay for the bag, the labor, the trucking, and the landfill processing. In addition, by keeping this material in your landscape, you pay for less mulch, potting mix, and fertilize. Go figure…

Ed Schroeder is a Master Gardener and a member of the Leon County/UF IFAS Extension Urban Forestry/Horticulture Newspaper Column Working Group. For more information about gardening in our area, visit the UF/ IFAS Leon County Extension website at For gardening questions, email us at



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Posted: November 21, 2013

Category: Agriculture, Horticulture
Tags: Fertilize, Irrigation, October - December 2014, Shrub

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