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Fallen Leaves Worth Their Weight in Gold

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When leaves fall onto the soil surface, they deter weeds, reduce erosion and soil compaction, improve infiltration of rainfall, prevent surface crusting, moderate soil temperatures and when they decompose, they invigorate the living organisms of the soil, improving nutrient levels, soil structure and drainage. 

The simplest way to recycle leaves on the lawn is to simply mow over them. It’s amazing how fast and efficient a mower can be at chopping up leaves so they seem to disappear into the turf. Chopped up leaves ran through the mower will not harm turf and can actually benefit it by mulching thin grassy areas to prevent weeds from sprouting. 

Numerous university research reports have detailed how leaf mulching affects turf performance. In almost every instance, the results show that chopping up deciduous leaves, as part of a regular mowing schedule is an effective means of managing these leaves without harming the turf. Mulching the leaves had no undesirable effects on turf quality or color, growth, thatch accumulation, soil pH, weed populations or disease pressure. While the leaves did not prove to be a substitute for proper nitrogen fertilization practices, the general assessment was that mulching was overall very positive and economical. 

A mulching mower works great, but so does a standard mower. Set the front wheels a notch or two higher to allow leaf litter to enter the mower housing. Mulch leaves only when the yard is dry, as wet materials will quickly clog the mower. 

Another method of leaf recycling is to collect them for garden mulch. With a mower, blow leaves into windrows for fast, easy collection or, attach a bagger to the mower and partially shred and collects leaves. Mulch flower and vegetable gardens with a 2-inch layer of leaves. Give shrubs and trees 3 to 4 inches of mulch.

A third leaf re-cycling technique is composting. There are numerous approaches to composting including composting in traditional heaps and bins. Washington State University Extension has an excellent publication on how to build a compost pile. Appropriately titled Backyard Composting in the 1990’s, you can download a free copy by googling: and putting the number EB 1784 in the search box or obtain a hard copy by calling the PublicationDepartment at WSU at 1-800-723-1763 and asking for Extension Bulletin 1784. The cost for the printed copy is $1plus tax and postage.

Choose these Plants

 for Glorious Fall Color

It’s that time of year when much of the rural landscape throughout western Washington transitions into a tapestry of fall colors. Although we may not have the hardwood forests and consequent colorful fall foliage that dominate the New England States this time of year, we do have big-leaf and vine maples, Oregon Ash, Pacific Dogwoods and a host of other native plants that produce their own kaleidoscope of fall color. When placed against a background of native evergreens our fall colors are further enhanced.

Home gardeners can easily create a riot of fall color in their own landscapes by incorporating a number of plants that are prized for their fall foliage displays. One of the most common, and perhaps most visible for its use in freeway plantings along Interstate 5 is Euonymus alata Compacta, which is commonly referred to as “Burning Bush”. His has to be one of the best plants for use in the home landscape due its nearly fluorescent display of red foliage this time of year. In addition to the vibrant fall foliage, the branches are covered with four corky ridges to give the plant added winter interest.  This plant can be grown in full sun or shade; however they will develop a more intense red color in the fall if they are grown in full sun. They do well in our coastal climate and as an added bonus have few insect and disease problems. 

Another favorite is Red vein Enkianthus, (Enkianthus campanulatus), which produces good red fall color on plants that can get 6 to 12 feet tall and almost as wide, giving it an upright appearance. The yellowish-pink, hanging bell-shaped flowers has red veins and is attractive well into spring. The bright red young stems during the summer usually persist throughout the winter giving it year-round appeal. It combines well with rhododendrons that like similar growing conditions. Another feature is that this shrub is noted as being somewhat deer resistant.

Fothergilla is a must have for gardeners who like a mix of fall color on a single plant. Fothergilla has species that can be sued for both foundation plantings (F. gardenia) and for naturalistic settings (F. major), reaching 3 to 4 feet high, and 6 to 10 feet high respectively. Their habit is dense and rounded.  Both have fall leaves mixed in colors of red, yellow and orange for an attractive effect. The lightly fragrant flowers (like honey) in spring are shaped like bottlebrushes.

Other options for color in the home landscape include blueberries, and the American cranberry bush (Viburnum opulus var. americanum). This native species and its more brightly fall cultivars such as “Alfredo” and “Redwing” are drought tolerant.

Finally, most gardeners agree, it’s hard to beat Japanese maples when it comes to spectacular fall color displays. With hundreds of cultivars to choose from, these elegant and colorful plants are sure to electrify anyone’s garden with a blaze of crimson, orange and yellow colors. As an added bonus, many cultivars sport spring and summer foliage in shades of red and bronze before transitioning to their vibrant fall colors.


Editor’s Note:This article first appeared on 10/17/13. If you would like to respond to this story go to



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