Leaf mould, harvesting, squishy lawns and landscaping | Community

During last week’s Southeasternly blow, I dashed outside to apply more clamps to the plastic covers on the mini-hoops that protected the newly sprouted spinach seedlings. Job complete, I went on a quick slug patrol. Ten minutes later, my glasses speckled with raindrops, l hurried back to the house.

And as I did, I came face to face with the tallest (OK, I’m only 5-3), the most beautiful lily I’d ever seen; brilliant yellow against darkening skis. A lily. Go figure. This was October.

It’s times like these that I feel especially blessed. Like driving down a side street and discovering a thick swath of cottonwood leaves lining the road’s edge, just waiting to be raked up and fed to the compost pile. Or waking up to a bonus sunny morning, pleased that the forecasters got it wrong.

Autumn leaves are a gift, though often an overlooked one. For one thing, autumn leaves are one of the best packets of nutrients for your garden. My friends in the UK regard leaves as the best thing since black tea. In the States we rake leaves to get rid of them. Heaven forbid our lawns appear blemished.

In England, autumn leaves are considered one of nature’s free and annually renewable gifts to gardeners. While the Brits no doubt appreciate fall colors, British gardeners are after something more: Leaf mould. Leaf mold is the material that’s left when the dead, fallen leaves from deciduous trees and shrubs are heaped up and allowed to rot down.

“Leaf mould,” says British garden writer John Walker, “is easy to make, free of pests, diseases and weeds, a delight to handle, and you can’t possibly overdose your soil on it. The hidden alchemy that brings it about — the countless microorganisms that drive decay — gives leaf mold its almost magical quality.”

In Britain, leaf mold is the gourmet choice for mulching perennials, improving soil, boosting a compost pile, sprinkling on lawns, and using it as a primary ingredient for homemade potting soil.

A basic potting soil recipe goes something like this: One part compost to one part leaf mould. Easy.

Start by gathering fresh fallen leaves. Deposit them into a wire enclosure, large tote, or compost bin. Let the pile sit for one, two, or, ideally, three years.

If you shred them, the leaves will break down more quickly, usually in 12 months. Wet the pile thoroughly and rainproof it with a cover. Check the moisture level several times during the year.

You can also make leaf mold in smaller quantities by packing moist leaves into trash bags and letting them sit for a year or two or three.

Yes, fall leaves are a sure sign that the first frost is around the corner. Grab a rake and start creating a gift: Your own premium, gourmet, leaf mold mulch.

Everything is still growing, and the garden is still producing bountiful crops. Carrots will be fine as is for a while, so no rush to pull them yet. But it’s not good form to pat yourself on the back. It is time to assess the landscape.

Question: Have you been taking pictures or videos all season to document what is working in the landscape and what may need a bit more attention?

For example, plant questions, pests or disease issues. If you have a mystery plant problem, pest or disease, ask your question here: https://plw.man.mybluehost.me/. The Alaska Cooperative Extension Service may be able to help. Or post on the Kodiak Growers Facebook page.

Maybe you’ve come to realize that some plants take too much time and energy. I know this is “rhubarb country,” but when it comes to dividing the plants or spreading mulch around them you have committed yourself to a regimen that highly resembles taking on a new puppy.

Are they earning their keep, so to speak? An ideal landscape plant (even in Kodiak!) has four seasons of interest:

3. Radiant fall color, and

4. Interesting shape, seed pods, or bark to “glow” in winter

SQUISHY PLACES IN THE LAWN?

The first step is to figure out what the base soil consists of. Specifically, if it doesn’t contain adequate organic material. Let’s say you prepared your lawn by spreading a layer of local topsoil. You sprinkle peat moss on top, followed by a turf seed mix and call it done. You can bet it’s a drainage problem.

Here’s another consideration: Remove shrubs, plants, and trees that have outgrown their allotted space and require periodic whacking to keep some semblance of order in the garden. Shrubs and trees jammed up against a building is a common problem when one doesn’t consider a plant’s girth and size at maturity.

This is a consideration in the vegetable garden as well. Kale plants become tangled with cabbage; When transplanting seedlings, it’s important to consider how large (or small) plants will grow. Give them enough space and you avoid devastating disease and pest issues.

Garden Checklist: Plant spring bulbs, make compost, trim tall perennials, plant garlic, harvest inearnest.

Stay fit for gardening: KMXT’s “Run the Rock” is on for Oct. 8. Register here: https://kmxt.org/

Marion Owen is co-author of the New York Times bestseller, Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul, which is available through Amazon. To learn how to garden in Kodiak, sign up for Marion’s Kodiak Gardening workshop at https://gardenerscoach.com/kodiak. To ask a gardening question: marion@gardenerscoach.com

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