Garden Talk


"GardenTalk", a regular feature for The Gazette, brings to you the combined experience and expertise of Holly Lake's dedicated gardeners and others. A continuing focus will be subjects of interest to anyone who has ever bought a packet of seeds or dug a hole in the ground for a plant, as well as the dedicated and sharp-eyed observers of nature. "GardenTalk" will not only inform you each issue but solicits your ideas and personal gardening experiences which you may wish to pass on to others. The hope is that "GardenTalk" will enrich us all as well as help make Holly Lake even more beautiful.

We, Holly Lakers, are sitting on a gold mine! A gold mine of compost, that is. I'm sure if you have flowers, a yard or even a garden, you have added compost to our sugar sand to help it retain not only moisture but nutrients as well. I never thought I would miss the black gumbo of Dallas but in some ways I do. Every time it rains, I really think I can see all the fertilizer and other nutrients run right off into Holly Lake!

In autumn the leaves of a tree become sealed off from the rest of the tree. Deprived of nutrients and moisture, the leaves cannot form new chlorophyll. The old chlorophyll breaks down, and the green color disappears. As the chlorophyll fades, the yellow and orange pigments (present all along but masked by the chlorophyll) begin to dominate. Reds and purples may also appear, produced during a series of chemical reactions involving sugars that build up in the leaf as nights grow cold.

The array of colors that fall leaves bring to Holly Lake is often overshadowed by the chores of fall – raking, bagging, blowing. However, autumn leaves don't have to become trash. Leaves can easily be turned into valuable soil-enhancing organic matter that helps turn our sandy soil into nutrient-rich loam.

Dry leaves should be tilled into the vegetable garden or flowerbed to provide a source of organic matter. First shred leaves to speed up breakdown so they won't be visible in spring. Be sure to mix the leaves into the soil, rather than keeping them on top through the winter. This helps prevent soil from becoming too wet to work with in spring.

Tree leaves can also be recycled directly on the lawn. User your power mower or shredder to break dry leaves into smaller pieces. Once the leaves are pulverized, they break down very quickly. A fall nitrogen fertilizer application speeds up decomposition and also benefits grass plants.

Fall leaves also make great compost, especially when mixed with green trimmings and grass clippings. Shred or chop the leaves before adding them to the compost pile. If you don't have green trimmings or grass clippings, add a source of nitrogen to the dry leaves, such as commercial fertilizer or better yet, composted cow or chicken manure. Add a sprinkling of soil to introduce a source of micro-organisms and water to moisten. Compost heats up the in the center as it breaks down. Stir the contents occasionally to add air and to allow for uniform heating. The more often you turn the pile, the faster you'll get a finished product. The compost is ready when it looks uniformly dark and crumbly.

Shredded leaves can be used as winter mulch to protect tender perennials through the winter weather. After a couple of freezes, apply a 3 to 6 inch layer of shredded leaves over the top of perennials. I'm going to try this approach with my pineapple sage to see if I can get it to winter over. The goal of winter mulch is to keep plants dormant through the winter so it must be applied after the ground is cold and the plants are fully dormant. Mulch application timing varies but generally sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas is best.

You can always take the easy way out and frequent the big box store, our local nursery or that soil amendment company east on Highway 80 – nothing wrong with that!! I, for one, am going use the wonderful resources of our area – Holly Lake leaves!

Ann Reynolds, Certified Master Naturalist