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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Open 9 to 6 Mon. through Sat.
and 10 to 5 on Sun.

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

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Express-News Weekly Column
Saturday, December 1, 2001
Submitted by Calvin Finch, Ph.D., Manager of Conservation, SAWS, and Horticulturist

Do you have pecan, bur oak, and red oak leaves all over your lawn? There is no need to rake and bag them. Run the lawn mower over the leaves and they will decompose quickly, adding nutrients and soil-building organic material back to the lawn.

If you just can not stand the look of leaves on the lawn, even for the three or four weeks that it takes for them to decompose, you still should not send them to the landfill. Leaves are too valuable to the environment to bury them in equally valuable landfill space. Use the leaves as mulch.

Three or four inches of leaves over the root system of newly planted shrubs or trees increases the growth rate up to 40% over plants with lawn grass growing up to the trunks. Mulch reduces evaporation from the soil (water conservation) and keeps the soil cool, which reduces the likelihood of cotton root rot. Mulch also reduces weeds, which makes it unnecessary to use the string mower near the trunk of the tree.

Leaves are my favorite mulch for the vegetable garden. Four inches of leaves in the rows between the veggies reduce weeds, keep the soil cool and conserve water, but they also allow you to walk in the garden without excessive soil compaction. Till or shovel the leaves into the soil after every crop and you are refreshing the soil with organic material each time. Remember to add some extra nitrogen to the soil whenever brown or coarse organic material is incorporated into the soil. I use two cups of lawn fertilizer per 100 sq. ft. and it seems to work well. The extra nitrogen reduces any nitrogen deficit when the leaves start to decompose.

Another good place for leaves is in a compost pile. A wire enclosure six feet in diameter makes a great depository for leaves, weeds, fine prunings, grass clippings, and garden refuse. If you have about half green and half brown material and you wet the pile every week, it will form compost in two or three months. If you are more casual about the effort and do not worry much about ratios, air or moisture, the pile will decompose in six months. Again, a little nitrogen fertilizer can replace the green material. Compost, the product of the compost pile, is a homogenous, clean smelling material that makes a great potting soil or soil additive. Use it as part of your raised bed garden mix for superior production of flowers and vegetables.

Even those of us with large lots and large gardens do not produce enough compost to meet our needs. This time of the year through the winter and early spring, compost is especially useful as a lawn dressing. Applied one-half inch deep over the lawn, it is a great tonic for a stressed lawn. Combine the compost application with aeration and the compost infiltrates into the root area to contribute to water penetration, gas removal, and nutrient efficiency as it addresses compaction.

Purchase compost for top dressing from Garden-Ville, Fertile Garden Supply, Living Earth Technologies, or your favorite organic material supplier. SAWS biosolids compost is usually the least expensive material available at these suppliers and it is great as a lawn dressing.

I do not recommend using the top dressing with sand added, unless you are as interested in leveling the lawn as revitalizing it. Sand is an inert material that does not contribute anything to the process, except mass.

If you still do not want your leaves, give them to a neighbor. Anything is better than sending them to the landfill.