Fall Leaves and Mulch

Fall foliage in brilliant yellow, orange, and red appear as autumn’s cool nights and shorter days trigger the photosynthesis to shut down, toning down the green in the leaves and allowing other colors to emerge. When the leaves fall to the ground around the base of the tree, the antioxidants in these colors are absorbed into the soil and protect the tree from frost and keep competing plants from taking root. Instead of removing the fall leaves, use them for mulching as they contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to feed the soil.

Leaves are the perfect mulch; mow the leaves to chop them, as wet matted leaves don’t allow water to reach the soil until they decompose. Many wildlife species lives in or relies on this leaf layer to find food (like chipmunks, earthworms, toads, as well as butterfly pupae). Move the leaves around the yard to mulch the flower beds. Fall leaves are also a boon to the organic veggie garden as they are the perfect addition to the compost pile.

Organic mulches, like leaves, straw, pine leaves, sawdust, and bark chips, are pleasing to the eye and good for the soil. Natural mulches enhance soil structure and keep earthworms and microorganisms in the garden happy breaking down the organic material and creating pathways in the soil for water and air.  As the mulch decomposes with the help of these soil organisms, it enriches the soil providing nutrients for the plant roots. Mulch keeps the soil temperature warmer at night and cooler during the day, as the blanket of mulch keeps the soil from drying out too quickly. Gardeners can use less water for their garden as mulching keeps the water from evaporating in the sunshine.

Gardeners can spread mulch as an attractive landscaping feature to prevent weeds from growing, to help keep low hanging veggies and fruit clean, and to make a mud free path to tend to the garden. Plants in mulched soil will grow deeply and find their own water, creating strong roots that grow larger harvests. Because mulch absorbs the impact of falling rain, soil erosion is controlled by slowing the flow of rainwater and wind speed during a storm and encouraging the water to percolate into the soil. Applying mulch in the fall to an organic fruit and veggie garden helps to keep down the weeds, to keep moisture in the soil, to feed the soil, and to keep soil temperatures even, producing the most abundant organic fruits and vegetables.

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