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Mother Natures gift of the fall season: leaves
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Mother Nature is in a gift-giving mood this time of year.

Each year, her gifts of leaves can be used as mulch, fertilizer or made into compost. It is just up to you what you want to do with these gifts.

Autumn leaves are a universal tool for a gardener to use in the landscape. They can be a source of nutrients that can’t be beat or can improve soil tilth by loosening up hard ground.

If you have been using the mulching feature on your lawn mower, you have provided approximately 35 percent of the lawn’s needs in nutrients. Continue on mowing this fall to mulch and chop leaves that fall. During the winter, they will decompose and provide nutrients back to the soil. By doing this over time, the soil’s organic matter will increase, making it ideal for plant growth.

Another way to find a good use of leaves is to chop them and use them as mulch around trees, shrubs and flowers. Mulch helps protect plants from cold temperatures, keeps weeds under control and holds moisture in the soil. It also acts like a slow-release fertilizer over time as the leaves decompose and the nutrients become available to the plant.

If you are really serious about using your leaves in the landscape, try composting them. Composting can be as intensive or extensive as you want it to be.

The easiest way to compost is to heap the leaves in a pile and let them sit over winter. This method will take the longest for the leaves to turn into compost, but eventually they will.

A more intensive method is to make a compost bin out of anything such as pallets made into a box or hog wire fencing shaped into a circle. With the pallet bin, consider making two in order to move the pile from one to the other, allowing for faster composting. Using a hog wire fence, cut a length of fence about 10- to 12-feet-long and tie the ends together to make a circle. With this method, simply pick up the fence and shake out the leaves. Place the container in a different spot and put the leaves back into it.

By moving the leaves from one bin to another, you are adding oxygen to the pile which promotes the composting process. If you do this three or more times, the rate of composting will be fast and you will end up with a nice finished product within three months.

No matter how you deal with your leaves, take advantage of their potential. They improve soil quality and plant growth. Besides this is the way Mother Nature intended her annual gifts from the trees to be used.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears weekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.

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