Our landscapes have taken a new look, one of beautiful color to one of bare trees and lawns covered in leaves. This is the time to do our fall chores and clean-up those leaves from our lawns. Leaf cover can cause turf grass damage by smothering the grass, and creating an environment more susceptible to “snow mold”. The fungi that cause snow mold thrive in moist, cool environments, and therefore fall is the time to remove the leaves from our lawns to help prevent snow mold in the spring.
The leaves can be utilized in several ways, one is composting. Leaves can be added to a compost pile with other lawn clippings, non-woody plant trimmings, yard waste, etc. Shredding leaves is not required, but will speed up the process of decomposition. Compost piles composed of only leaves will require an extra source of nitrogen, such as commercial fertilizer, or materials high in nitrogen to assist with the decomposition.
Another way to dispose of your leaves is to use them as mulch for your perennials and bulbs. Snow is a fantastic insulator for your plants, but putting a layer of leaves, whole or shredded, on top of the perennials or bulbs will insulate them in case there isn’t a sufficient layer of snow this winter.
The best time to begin putting down protective mulch is when the ground starts to freeze. In order for mulch layers on your perennials or bulbs to be effective, it should be five or six inches thick. In addition to whole or shredded leaves, partially decomposed compost, hay, straw, ground cornstalks, pine needles, and evergreen boughs can also be used. Remove the mulch as it thaws in early spring, but after the chance of a late frost, to avoid crown rot and other fungus problems.
Mulch not only protects the plants and bulbs from the extreme cold temperatures, it also minimizes the fluctuation of temperature which could prematurely cause the plant or bulb to come out of dormancy. It also minimizes the possibility of continuous freezing and thawing to cause the ground to heave, forcing the plant to lift out of the ground causing damage to the roots possibly resulting in death of the plant.