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Leave Your Leaves at Home

In Los Altos Hills, and elsewhere on the planet, leaves are a valuable resource.

You may have the mow-and-blow guys come to your property and blow all your fallen leaves into piles and haul them away, or put the leaves in bins to be hauled away by GreenWaste.

Have you ever wondered if those leaves might be of value to you?

Leaves do have value. Leaves that have fallen from trees are destined to disintegrate into excellent soil. Do you buy mulch and soil amendments for your garden? Fallen leaves are nature’s favorite mulch, and one of nature’s best soil amendments.

While they are breaking down, leaves provide a layer of mulch—something to protect the topsoil from blowing away, feed the good microbes in the soil, and minimize weed growth.

Over time, fallen leaves break down and become rich lovely dirt.  Earth (soil/dirt) comes from the breakdown of things that used to be alive. Decomposed leaves create one of the big differences between the surface of Earth and the surface of Mars.

There are several things you can do with fallen leaves. The Krauses on Westwind Way use leaves from other parts of their property to mulch their row of young olive trees. Local organic gardening expert Jody Main adds leaves to her bin. She says, “Brown leaves are good for balancing the green things and kitchen waste you put into your compost.” On advice from my sister, I rake my leaves onto the beds surrounding my driveway, decks, and lawn (clearing a space between the leaves and the tree trunks, and being careful not to smother small plants).

At the Los Altos Hills Town Hall, you can see an excellent example of what to do with fallen oak leaves: leave them alone. The giant old oak tree grows in a big circle of dirt with no concrete, no plantings, and no irrigation. The leaves fall down to the ground and are left there to enrich the soil.

Another thing to do with leaves is rake them into a pile and let them decompose for a year. You can watch them turn into a rich wonderful soil, then use the result as an amazing soil amendment or mulch.

Nature covers soil with leaves, to protect and feed the soil. Why not leave your leaves where they fall? Or move them onto your garden beds and beneath your trees.

About This Column: Pam Walatka explores sustainable life in Los Altos Hills. She teaches yoga for the Los altos Hills Parks and Recreation Department. Contact Pam at pamwalatka@yahoo.com or see Pam Portugal Walatka Writings on FaceBook.

Pam Walatka December 16, 2011 at 01:15 AM
Leaves in a pile by themselves take longer to break down than compost, but you can use the pile for mulch at any point in its decomposition.
Pam Walatka December 19, 2011 at 07:14 PM
I hear that some readers are putting copies of this column in with their gardener's pay.

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