Use Leaves and Twigs to Fertilize Lawn, Garden

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Autumn provides plenty of natural fertilizer for lawns and gardens. Here are a few ideas to make the most of them:

Leaves. Shredded leaves protect soil and deliver needed carbon — or browns in compost lingo — to lawns. If you don't have a leaf shredder, a mower can do the job. To make a quick mulch, simply make piles about a foot deep and run the mower at an angle several times until the leaves are shredded.

To fertilize leaves directly on the lawn follow these steps:
• Set mower blade to 3 inches high.
• Take off the bag.
• Mow outside edge following a square pattern, slightly overlapping on each pass.
• Mow until leaves are fine enough to allow grass to poke through layers of leaves — 3/4-inch depth is fine.
• Leaves can also be shredded with a string trimmer. Simply fill a trash barrel about three-fourths full and dunk the trimmer in several times like a blender.

For the garden:
• Blanket beds with a 3- to 4-inch layer and keep on until spring to turn into soil.
• Use leaves as mulch around plantings to reduce weeds and retain moisture. 

Leaf mold. It's really a pile of leaves, shredded or whole, left to compost. The pile should sit a year for shredded and up three for unshredded. The final product is soil amendment, or conditioner, which improves soil structure, improves water holding capacity, insulates against heat and cold, improves soil pH and helps regulate plant growth hormones.

Other tips. Avoid using roadside leaves, which may be contaminated with vehicle gas and oil. Keep a few bags or barrels of leaves throughout the winter to feed the compost pile or bin. Sticks no bigger than the diameter of your pinkie can be added to a compost pile. Make a layer of sticks and twigs to help aerate the pile.