Perennial Buzz: Leaves make great lawn mulch

Published 9:00 am Saturday, October 19, 2019

Perennial Buzz by Shelley Pederson

Shelley Pederson is a perennially busy master gardener, lover of nature and student of life.

A fall meditation: Take a walk, slowly and quiet on a sunny autumn day. Breathe in deeply, and exhale slowly. Clear your mind of your to-do list, and reflect on your past year. Think about your garden, the blooms, the fresh produce and how unique each garden is. Watch the leaves turn colors, maybe touch the bark and feel the heartbeat of a tree. Breathe in and be yourself.

Connect with nature in front of your eyes and the nature within yourself.

The weather continues to cool. The leaves are turning, dropping and fall cleanup continues.

Shelley Pederson

Autumn leaves make great mulch. I like to mow my leaves, chop them finely and allow them to compost directly on the lawn. Obviously, if you have too many leaves some need to be raked and removed. But it is OK to leave a light layer of chopped leaves on the lawn. If you are using leaves for mulch, use your mower to chop them up a bit and lightly layer them over your perennial garden. Be sure to keep the leaves away from peony and iris crowns. Too heavy of a cover can lead to the soil and plants staying wet, rotting and creating troubled spots vulnerable to disease. They are certainly useful in the vegetable garden, simply rototill them into the soil.

As the leaves break down, they add rich nutrients to your soil.

The last workshop I attended on lawn care suggested reducing the amount of chemical fertilizers commonly used. Synthetic fertilizers are usually made up from non-sustainable ingredients, including fossil fuels. Although the nutrients are readily available, there is a danger of over fertilization. This not only can kill the plants, but can upset the entire ecosystem. Repeated applications can build up toxins in the soil, change the soil pH, upset beneficial microbes and even contribute to the release of greenhouse gases. The chemicals tend to leach into water runoff and require more frequent applications. It is a slow process to move from a chemically enhanced lawn to an organically enhanced lawn and well worth the effort ecologically and eventually to your pocketbook.

The basic thing is healthy soil creates healthy plants, and healthy plants are more resistant to disease and weeds. Fall fertilizing the lawn with soil conditioners made up from plant or animal waste, powdered minerals, cottonseed meal or Milorganite in the fall helps feed the roots. The theory is that if the grass is fed a high-carb diet, there is less stress on the plant during the winter dormancy. In the spring, a healthier, robust plant breaks the soil and the natural nitrogen from spring rains will be enough to fertilize your lawn to the mean, green growing machine people admire. The lawn is not fertilized in the spring or summer. A soil conditioner used as fertilizer adds organic material to your soil. This builds the soil. This organic material feeds microbes and helpful bacteria in the soil. The components break down slowly and are available to the roots for a longer time. Each fall you simply amend the soil with another slow release fertilizer, building both the lawn and the soil.

Soil conditioners may seem more expensive in the short run, but remember, you are now only fertilizing your lawn in the fall, not the traditional three or four times a year. Remember to mow your lawn long. Minnesota grasses like to be 3.5 inches long. Mowing your grass short creates stress on the plant.

Milorganite is not only a great lawn fertilizer, it has iron in it to feed evergreens and hosta. Deer do not like the smell, so they avoid it. It does have an odor for a day or two, but it dissipates, and the benefits are worth it. Now that you have your lawn squared away, go ahead and take that mindful walk and enjoy the season.