Have you ever wondered how forests can sustain themselves without human interference? You must have because many people ask me that question all the time. The answer is quite simple. Or is it?
The forest is a natural ecosystem. All the plants are what gardeners call “volunteers.” People didn’t plant them. The seeds may have dropped from a nearby plant and germinated. Or birds could have dropped them. They could have been carried in an animal’s fur. Such is not the case in our yards. Yards are designed ecosystems, usually with vast areas of turfgrass.
Leaf drop in the forest is part of nature’s sustainability plan. The leaves decompose and release their nutrients and organic matter into the soil. In our yards, leaves drop on our cultivated and manicured lawns. Besides being unsightly, a build up of leaves can block sunlight, water and air from reaching the grass plants. Yet, the nutrients and organic matter from leaves are good for the lawn. What’s a homeowner to do?
Many municipalities use a giant vacuum to remove leaves that residents pile by the side of the road. They take them to a central location and compost them. Some return the compost to the residents, other use it only for parks and public land. If available, you have to go and pick up the compost you need.
Keeping your leaves at home and making your own compost probably doesn’t take any more effort than going to a central location and loading compost into your vehicle.
It is important to chop up leaves to hasten decomposition. Many people have their own pet methods for chopping leaves, but the most efficient method I have seen is to put the leaves into a strong garbage can, don safety glasses and plunge your string trimmer into the leaves until they are chopped fine enough. It is like using a stick blender (boat motor) in the kitchen, but on a bigger scale. Although I would certainly like to take credit for this idea, I actually saw Paul James the Gardener Guy do it on HGTV.
Throw the chopped leaves into your compost bin or on to your compost pile. Turn them a few times during the winter and your compost should be ready next spring or fall, depending on weather conditions. Best of all, you will save having to buy compost or haul it from your community compost pile.