Lately, it is beginning to feel like fall. The temperature is starting to cool off. This brings about many changes in our plants, especially our trees. Leaves will start to change colors and then they will drop. If you look closely at the pine trees in your yard, you will notice that some of the needles are turning brown and dropping. These are the older leaves on the tree. Hopefully, the rest of the needles are still green.
Now, you have all these leaves and pine needles covering your yard. The question is, what do you do with them? If they are covering turfgrass, you need to remove them. If there is too deep of a layer of leaves or pine needles covering the grass, the grass doesn't go dormant like it is supposed to. This can make it more susceptible to cold damage.
Most people will rake the leaves, put them in plastic bags and let the disposal companies pick them up. To me, these pine needles and leaves are a gold mine. You can use this yard waste in a number of ways. They can be used for compost, adding organic material to your soil and as mulch.
Making compost is one of the ways that we can put the leaves in our yards to work for us. Composting is a practical and convenient way of recycling leaves, lawn clippings and trimmings from the landscape. This composting takes these materials and through a natural decomposition process makes dark, rich, humus that can be added back to your soil.
You can use almost any organic plant material in your compost pile. I would advise, however, against using diseased plant material, weeds or weed seeds and invasive plants.
If the pile doesn't heat up enough, the disease organisms and seeds will not be killed and you will be adding more problems into your landscape and garden.
Compost piles need to be placed in out-of-the-way areas that receive full sun and are on a well-drained site. The full sun will help heat the pile. The size of the compost pile will help with the heating process. The larger the compost pile, the more heat that it produces.
I have had the best success with a compost pile that is 5 feet high and 5 feet in diameter. I use a piece of fencing material that is 5 feet high and 12 feet long. This will give me close to the size hoop that I need.
Once I have my hoop in place, I start making layers in the hoop. The first layer is brown material. This is leaves, sawdust, wheat straw or any other material that has high carbon content. This layer will be 6 to 10 inches deep. The next layer will be the green layer.
The green materials could be grass clippings, kitchen scraps or manures. This layer will be 3 to 5 inches deep. You want a 2-1 ratio of brown to green.
If you are not adding manures to your compost pile, you need to add some garden soil. The fungi and bacteria needed by the compost pile are in the soil.
You then need to moisten the pile. Continue with the layers until the hoop is full. You will need to turn the pile once a month to keep the decomposition process working. The more that you turn the pile, the faster you will have finished compost. The compost will be finished when it looks like rich, crumbly earth and you can no longer recognize the original plant material. When the compost is finished, you can add it to your soil.
If composting sounds like too big of a chore, you can take the leaves and put them on your garden and incorporate them into the soil. You will need to do this in the fall and the garden will benefit in the spring. This will give the leaves time to decompose.
As the leaves decompose, they pull nutrients out of the soil to aid in the decomposition process. If you have plants growing in this soil, the nutrients needed by the plant will be taken away to aid in the decomposition of the leaves. Once the leaves are broken down, the nutrients become available to the plants.
The other way that I use leaves and pine needles is for mulch. I will place 2 to 4 inches of leaves and pine needles around my plants, and then place an inch or two of pine bark, hardwood or cypress mulch on top of them. This holds the leaves in place.
As the leaves decompose, they add organic material to the soil and release nutrients into the soil. Leaves that are decomposing on the soil surface do not pull the nutrients away from the plants.
Leaves and pine straw can be used around your landscape and gardens and will benefit your plants. Use them around your home instead of sending them someplace else.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at email@example.com. The Extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
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