A number of tree species in our area don’t completely shed their leaves until spring growth. The turkey oak, sometimes called scrub oak, is in this category and will hold onto many of its brown, dead leaves until new leaves emerge in spring. These types of trees can create a cleanup problem through fall, winter and spring.
It’s definitely a job managing all those leaves. In today’s article, Dan Mullins, retired UF/IFAS Extension Agent, and I share ideas on ways homeowners can take care of handling all those leaves in the landscape.
Leaves make good mulch. They can be placed on the soil surface beneath and around shrubs, trees, perennials and annuals. Leaves can also be added to established beds to freshen old mulch layers and to maintain the recommended 2 to 3-inch depth.
Mixing leaves from several different species of trees can make better leaf mulch. This practice alters the texture of the finished product and allows for better penetration of water and air. Leaves of the same size, when used as mulch, tend to mat together and produce a shingling effect that can shed water and allow for less soil gas exchange for healthy plant roots.
Leaves can be used to create compost. They can be used whole, though decomposition is more rapid if chopped or shredded before being added to the pile.
Composting methods vary. The UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County can provide additional information on composting, including materials to use and not to use.
Compost happens. Simply find a hidden corner of the yard or garden and pile the tree leaves. They will eventually decompose and can then be used as a soil amendment for flower, shrub and vegetable gardens.
There is an even easier method for handling tree leaves, but it requires an area of the vegetable garden or landscape that is not currently in use. Simply haul the leaves and spread a thick layer over the entire area, then till to mix them with the soil. Soil microbes will help to decompose them, adding organic matter. After several months the area can be used for establishing the desired vegetation.
This method has been called “composting in place.” The advantage is that the leaves are handled only twice, during loading and unloading, instead of the several times that conventional composting requires.
Native areas that include an overhead tree canopy should not be raked, allowing fallen leaves to remain. This provides a natural mulch layer. This is the way that natural recycling has worked in native plant communities for thousands of years.