Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Another Tip - Leave the leaves, but not around your plantings


To continue to my series of blog posts about how to get your trees ready for the upcoming growing season, here's another tip that is very important, yet often overlooked.  

You should always remove old leaves and needles that fell from the fall and winter from your plantings and transfer them to a separate area of your yard. Don't get rid of them, just move them to a better location.  

If the trees in your landscape are susceptible to certain fungal problems (such as dogwood or sycamore anthractnose and pines affected by diplodia tip blight), removing leaf and needle debris will help reduce this effect.

Let me clarify that leaf litter is generally a good thing, but for the plantings in our yard, it is just too much.  

Leaf litter is truly an environmental windfall. Fallen leaves act as a wildlife boon enriching soil, providing a down-like comforter for small critters, and even benefiting bird species.

Mother Nature does not remove fallen leaves-and for good reason. Leaf litter provides food and shelter for earthworms, pill bugs, millipedes and a multitude of smaller life such as eggs and larvae of insects and spiders of many kinds. These creatures are all essential components of the food web providing sustenance to toads, frogs, lizards, and countless other animals.

Nearly all backyard birds require protein from insects to feed their young. A yard without theses elements is a yard devoid of life.

But, the story of leaves goes even deeper into the web of life in the soil itself. Leaf litter fosters living soils with vast numbers of beneficial soil bacteria and fungi working together to build healthy soil and to nourish plants.

The way leaf litter works is healthy soil web breaks leaf litter into a rich, organic layer that supports life both above and below the soil's surface. Treating soil instead with concentrated fertilizers drives away earthworms and kills nurturing bacteria and fungi. Without the buffering action of bacteria and fungi, the soil's pH (acid/base balance) is thrown out of whack. The soil then slowly loses the ability to hold air and water and to fight off disease.

As leaf litter breaks down, it slowly releases nutrients to the soil and plants, diminishing toxic fertilizer runoff into waterways.

But our yards are different from forests and rangeland. Sometimes fallen leaves are just too much, threatening to smother lawns and perennials. Rather than waste this leafy resource, blow or rake excess leaves to an unused area of the yard or compost to create a free, nutritious, and water conserving amendment for your garden next year. To speed decomposition, try grinding or chopping leaves with a chipper or weed eater. On the lawn, use a mulching or rotary lawnmower to shred the leaves; leave in place to nourish the grass and reduce water needs. If you truly cannot use all your leaves, perhaps a neighbor would welcome your contribution.

Be sure to keep litter and mulch away from plant stems and trunks to prevent crown rot. And, some plants that naturally grow in rocky, dry terrain should not be mulched with additional organic material.
Leaf litter that collects below diseased plants is best disposed of entirely. Examples are roses, peonies, iris, and hollyhocks that are frequently plagued with fungal diseases. Fruit tree leaf fall is also best removed to prevent possible reinfestation with certain diseases and insects.

Avoid sending other plant materials to a landfill whenever possible. Transporting debris creates pollution and once in the landfill, yard waste consumes huge amounts of space and generates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Leave the leaves to save time and money, enrich soil, help sustain wildlife, and benefit water and air quality. Mother Nature will thank you.

Confused as to what your trees need, what kind of trees you  have, or how to properly maintain them.  The Trees "R" Us, Inc. team is here to answer all your tree care and maintenance questions.  With clients all over the North Shore and Chicago's suburbs, we have the experience and the equipment to answer your questions and get the job done quickly, safely and properly.  Protect your investment in your trees and landscaping by contacting Trees "R" Us, Inc.  Visit our website at www.treesrusinc.com, call us at 847-913-9069 or email me, the owner directly at nick@treesrusinc.com.  We welcome your inquiries!

Thanks for reading, 
Nick


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