Gardening with Allen: Take advantage of organic matter falling from trees to improve soil

My friend says I should use leaves to improve my soil. How do leaves improve the soil?

In all my years of experience in gardening, I have learned that the single most important way to improve garden performance is to add organic matter to the soil. The higher the percentage of organic matter, the better plants grow. Organic matter opens the soil so it can breathe. The crumbly texture is easy to work, wet or dry. Water and air flow into and through the soil easily. As the organic matter is broken down it releases nutrient elements.

Why not take advantage of the free organic matter falling from trees this time of year to improve the soil? I run the mower over leaves on the lawn to chop them and pick them up. So much the better when grass clippings are mixed with the leaves. I rake or blow leaves from around shrubs and trees and then chop them up with my lawn mower. This chopping into fine pieces greatly reduces the volume. Most yards have a space where the chopped leaves can be piled over winter to partially decompose.

If you don’t have an open space, scatter the chopped up leaves over the vegetable garden and annual flower beds. Then after the plants are through growing use your mower to chop them up too. Add coffee grounds and vegetable trimmings from the kitchen. Spread a little lawn fertilizer over everything and sprinkle with water. After a winter of decomposition, the chopped up plants and leaves are ready to use as a mulch for trees and shrubs. Or they can be immediately tilled into the soil.

Years ago, when I had recently moved into a home which was only partially landscaped, I offered to rake and remove leaves for all my neighbors. That time I scattered them over the soil several inches deep and immediately tilled them into the soil. That effort paid off for years afterward. Every time I would move a plant or install a new one, the soil was easy to work. Everything I planted grew well.

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