Why remove leaves if going to return compost to soil?

Discussion in 'Soils, Fertilizers and Composting' started by janetdoyle, Nov 25, 2009.

  1. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member

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    This question has bothered me since I started gardening. We spend a lot of time removing fallen leaves, then either take them to the municipal compost facility or make a compost pile, hopefully really compost them, and put them back.

    If the leaves were spread about and left on the garden, mixed with a bit of true compost, without doing a total removal and replacement with "compost", will they compost in place, and will they really increase disease in plants [I can see that fallen rose leaves and others with mildew or other disease could be a problem]. I am assuming the answer will be yes, the leaves have to compost. But what happens to the plant infectious diseases which are part of the leaves being composted? Killed by the composting process, or not?
     
  2. Michael F

    Michael F Esteemed Contributor Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    With a large compost heap, the decay process will make the leaves get hot enough to kill most (if not all) infectious diseases; if the leaves are just spread thinly, they won't get hot enough.
     
  3. thanrose

    thanrose Active Member

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    In permaculture, you frequently do let leaves and twigs, even fallen fruit and wood, to rot in place. However, in permaculture you are also paying very close attention to what works and what doesn't, what plant combinations are bountiful and what needs better husbandry.

    If you have a bit of scale, for instance, and let the leaves fall unattended, you've overwintered the scale and spread it about rather than killing it. There will be galls and insect eggs and molds that you'll allow to incubate and multiply by leaving natural leaf fall to accumulate. It is possible to do it cleanly, but not for people who simply want to save effort.
     
  4. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member

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    Thank you, this is what I have read, and I guess the whole thing, when carried out properly, is a coordinated effort in managing the natural scene intelligently. My first introduction to true compost heat was in Nova Scotia when one time we really had steam rising from the compost heap, when it was turned, mid-winter. Thank you again. Always wise to review these things for everyone...
     
  5. GreenElephant

    GreenElephant Active Member

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    Now you're thinking permaculture. Let them rot in place. Let nature do the work for you.
     
  6. Ron B

    Ron B Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    Gathering it all up and taking it away is done primarily by those who think fallen plant parts are messy and ugly. This has been referred to as The Scorched Earth Policy. Many plants in sites given this treatment are liable to be growing less well than if there was a litter layer on the ground at all times. Nobody rakes the woods, the fallen debris is an essential part of the forest system.

    Where there are small plants nearby that would be smothered by tree and shrub debris or there is a specific disease cycle on a particular plant you are trying to interfere with then you might clean up their fallen leaves and/or fruits in those cases also.
     
  7. 1950Greg

    1950Greg Active Member

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    Spreading leaves on the ground will encourage the growth of worm populations in your soil speeding up the process of making top soil. Taking away this food source diminishes the activity of worms in your garden. If you have a heathy earth worm population in your soil the leaves and other debris do not compost but rather its eaten and deposited back into the soil as worm casting.
     
  8. 2annbrow

    2annbrow Active Member

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    My trees shed lots of leaves, and grass grows well here in winter, so I just mow over leaves and all with a mulching mower. I have lots of worms, and in warm weather I find "baby" worms, so they must like it, if they're reproducing here.
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2009
  9. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member

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    That's what I think too, why interfere with the warmth and cover Nature provides over the soil, and take it all up, then go and get more to put down? Who is to say the mulch you buy in bags is really disease-free? I CAN see that truly composting it somewhere so that it is cooked and sterilized to a degree is a good concept, but a lot of work. Especially on a large property, and harder still on a very small one [i.e. maybe no composting space] and there is no guarantee the compost pile will really kill off all the disease organisms. But it is certainly against the practices of most of our neighbourhoods -- we'd get sure signs of disapproval from the neighbours if we let it lie. And I am not sure about the lawns, maple leaves may not be too good for those. But leaves on gardens you are going to mulch anyway, if you have already weeded for the winter and things are ready for the colder season -- seems a waste of time of take the fallen all away, then put down purchased mulch.
     
  10. angilbas

    angilbas Active Member

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    On poorly drained terrain, raking the ground clean allows air to get at the soil, decreasing the risk of root suffocation in a wet season.


    -Tony
     
  11. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member

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    Thinking on this does come up with a similar explanation! The neatness thing, plus putting the leaves through a process to loosen up the size and slickness of the cover would allow the aeration... I suppose one could also just stir it around in situ, re-shaping it... I have done that on large garden beds near raked lawns, in late Fall, when too busy to remove all the cover.
     
  12. GreenElephant

    GreenElephant Active Member

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    Leaves on the ground do not suffocate or impair the flow of oxygen in the soil. On the contrary, you will see increased friability, a boom in microorganisms, worms, moles, etc, which fluff and aeriate the soil, doing all the work for you while you never lift a finger.
     
  13. Ron B

    Ron B Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    If a soil is too damp, airless and heavy it needs to be drained or otherwise modified internally, rather than raked. Or different kinds of plants need to be selected for that part of the site.
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2009
  14. shoshe

    shoshe Member

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    I`m all for leaving the leaves.Its adding valuable hummus and probably saving water next summer.It also slows down the growth of weeds in the beds over the winter.
     
  15. Ron B

    Ron B Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    A long time ago Sunset magazine had a small item about a gardener in southern California who had made a lush garden by gathering together plant litter from around the area and putting it on his beds. As elsewhere there would have been no shortage of surrounding property owners who kept their beds bare, producing a constant supply for The Neighorhood Weirdo.

    Main point of article was that he had made a low-water-use green oasis out of his little patch in the near-desert.

    By simply following natural models.

    Perhaps the worst idea I have encountered within the framework of this topic was a consultation client having been told by a party on the site ahead of me that they should take the moss and humus off of the tops of the natural rocks in their entryway, in order to make them better growing sites for garden plants. We are talking about boulders on a ridge above Puget Sound, the same kind of madronas-and-cliffs setting you see all around the picturesque inland salt-waterways of SW BC. Thousands of years of natural soil-building and rock-dwelling plant community formation to be swept away for the sake of tidiness.

    They would then also have to buy and apply artificially derived replacement soil in order to get anything to grow again on the rocks.

    And come up with some way to get it to stay in place.

    I guess this one really grated against my sensibilities.
     
  16. Liz

    Liz Well-Known Member

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    I leave all fallen leaves and even throw weeds back on top of mulch. Sun dries thingss quicky here. I also add extra mulch materials and as a result soil is deep friable and is doing a great job at retaining the water in our drought. Any rain is easily absorbed and goes to the root area. Worms are a dime a dozen just ask the chickens and birds. Do yousee forests raked clean??
    Liz
     
  17. LadyMagnolia

    LadyMagnolia Member

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    I've done it both ways with success. One of my nicest lawns was when I left leaves on my back yard over winter. I wouldn't do it on the front lawn, it doesn't look nice. I am trying it on my vegetable garden area to hopefully smother the leaves. We'll see.
     
  18. Liz

    Liz Well-Known Member

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    Lawn is a thing of the past in many gardens here so planting up with other ground covers works well and fallen leaves are a bonus. We are restricted in what we can water and when. Since lawn is a high water maintenance item as well as it needs cutting it has disappeared and instead there are meandering paths and garden rooms. I do have a paddock where I can sit in all the grass I want to compensate.
    Happy New year all we have about 4 hrs to go and it is still 30 C yuck it's been warm.
    Liz
     
  19. thanrose

    thanrose Active Member

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    We're a bit chilly and rainy here in Atlantic coast Florida. Looking for my flip-flops with the flower on top for additional warmth.

    I was thinking of mowing/mulching the lawn with the still falling leaves. Sycamore leaves are too big to be allowed to cover up my blooming azaleas. Also have some fallen dead wood that I need to break up a bit and toss under shrubs. The other leaves that continue to drop are mostly Acer, Liquidamber, Ulmus, and Fraxinus spp.

    Pretty much, though, where debris falls is where it stays on this little bit of ground. I'm going to use some Bacillus thuringiensis in the coming weeks, and it will need increased organic material to work its Bt magic on larval pests. Mostly thinking of nematodes and fleas for now.
     
  20. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member

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    fleas? That's one thing we don't have to worry about up here as far as I know...we have ticks tho'.... I'm beginning to think a tree-debris chipper is one of the most valuable household gadgets, but as a townhouse condo dweller now, it would be a bit superfluous but I must look around for a small one, if such exists. What we need to do is encourage our strata corp. to utilize some of its land for developing compost. Larval pests, yes, in abundance, and I too will try the nematodes next season...
     
  21. thanrose

    thanrose Active Member

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    A chipper is a great idea, but the problem for many of us is initial cost and then storage for long periods of non-use.

    In an ideal world, one would borrow or barter with a neighbor who has a chipper, while we would have the edger or string trimmer or other relatively high cost and low use tool.

    I can at least throw my longer woodier debris in a pile to offer shelter to wildlife while it decomposes.
     
  22. Liz

    Liz Well-Known Member

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    I know a lady who uses her pruners to constantly chip up small branches and any thing she snips off. This works for her in a small I/4 acre. I usually let my goats pelletise the branches :) I do have a mulcher but now need the kids to run it. To awkward to move.
    Had a lovely rainy thunderstorm that washed out New Years. It bought the temp down to a lovely 20C

    Liz.. Happy New year may it be better for you , yours and the world.
     
  23. M. D. Vaden

    M. D. Vaden Active Member 10 Years

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    Sometimes I work for folks who have big yards with older shrubs and small groves of trees. And there is a lot of open space beneath the canopy.

    I just use an inexpensive mower and pulverize the leaves. Keeps labor cost down and uses the leaves. The leaves also decompose much faster that way, and the area looks groomed almost immediately.

    It would be handy if more landscapes were like that.
     
  24. Blue Fox

    Blue Fox Member

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    I am very fortunate to have a friend who thinks that leaves are bad for the soil - so she picks them up with the ride on lawnmower, and I pick them up, already bagged. What a deal!

    I use them as mulch as long as they're not the huge maple leaves that have been mentioned, or compost them in the chicken pen, so the birds can pick through them and find any bugs. They also add some of their special blend of fertilizer.

    I've also weed whacked them in a garbage can to make them smaller. The best garden tool I ever bought was a rechargeable string trimmer.

    I usually compost them, just to keep them in one place for the winter, but I don't think it's really essential. Once you have worms, you can let them do the work. I've even left the leaves in the bags, added a couple of scoops of worms from the worm farm and some soil, and voila! In the spring, it's all rotted down, ready to go.
     
  25. Mister Green

    Mister Green Active Member

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    I have a bag of maple leaves collected from the fall. They are partly decomposed now and soggy. Is this better to go into the composter or worked into the soil that will be used for a vegetable garden?
     

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