Autumn is a beautiful time for Kentucky lawns and gardens, but it can also be messy. The season brings piles of leaves from our trees and spent shoots from our flowerbeds.
The way we address this yard waste can have a significant impact on our gardens and the environment. Homeowners commonly rake up and bag leaves to be hauled away to yard waste dumps. This option, while tidy, uses a lot of energy, both yours and the energy to transport the leaves and mixed garden waste. If you choose this option, both our local City and County governments take care of this service and do responsibly mulch the collected leaves and yard waste.
The City of Frankfort, Street Division, provides an annual leaf collection in the fall. Residents, who live in the Frankfort city limits, can rake their leaves out to the curb and leaf vacuums will come by to collect them. You can find this schedule for your neighborhood’s pickup day elsewhere in The State Journal.
Franklin County Road Department picks up bagged leaves from residents of the County, if the bag does not weigh over 50 pounds. This service is available from October through December.
Franklin County residents can call the Franklin County Road Department at 875-8760, after they have bagged their leaves and set them next to the road. The bags will be picked up within the week of the call. The residents may call as many times as needed from October through December.
Homeowners do have other options than to utilize the City or County roadside pick-up. Here are two options that are worth your consideration.
Mulching is one option for disposal of leaves. A very simple technique with leaves is to rake them into a line and mow over them with your lawn mower (or leave them where they are and mow them). The mower will chop the leaves into pieces small enough to fall between the blades of grass in your lawn. The chopped leaves will break down out of sight and provide nutrients to your lawn and improve the quality of your soil.
The mulched leaves may also be placed on your winter vegetable garden (just be sure there are no walnut leaves because they are toxic to veggies). The chopped leaves may also be used as mulch on perennial flowerbeds or around trees and shrubs.
This option saves you money. The chopped, mulched leaves on the lawn act as an organic, nitrogen soil amendment, so you will have no need to purchase specialized lawn fertilizers. Also for heavy clay soils, adding organic matter is the best course of action to improve the soil, and thus improve the health of your lawn.
The chopped leaves around your perennial flowers, shrubs and trees as a mulch is also very beneficial. As the leaves break down, the soil is enriched by the addition of the nitrogen. Also, as with your lawn, the leaves will improve the consistency of your soil, making it better for tree and shrub roots to grow and thrive. Also mulching helps maintain moisture in the soil. And mulching helps prevent heaving out of the soil of perennial plants, due to the freeze/thaw cycles in our Kentucky winters.
Composting is another way to make use of fallen leaves. Composting leaves and other yard wastes also reduces the volume of material going into landfills. Yard and kitchen wastes comprise more than 20 percent of the waste generated each year. By composting these wastes, you help reduce landfill disposal costs and extend the usefulness of landfills. This increases the return on your tax dollars.
If you choose to compost tree leaves, simply add leaves to an out of the way pile as you collect them. You can construct or purchase a compost bin, if you like. A bin is not necessary, however, particularly if you are just composting leaves. Ideally, the pile should be one cubic yard (three by three by three feet) to insure the best composting situation.
When leaves are dry in the pile, add a little water. Adequate moisture is essential for microbial activity that breaks down the leaves. It is especially important to supply water during dry weather periods and when you add more leaves and other dry materials to the compost pile.
Since dead leaves do not have adequate nitrogen for rapid decomposition, mix them with grass clippings, fruit or vegetable kitchen waste, or other green plant material.
To ensure good aeration and drainage, occasionally put down a three-inch layer of coarse plant material like small twigs, perennial plant pruning waste, or chopped corn stalks.
Periodically turn or stir the compost pile, about once a month or when the center of the pile is noticeably hot. The more often you aerate, the more quickly you will have useable compost. Compost is useable when it fails to heat up after turning.
The composting process can be completed in two to three months if materials are shredded, turned to provide good aeration, kept moist and supplied with nitrogen and other materials that cater to compost-promoting microorganisms. Otherwise, it may require up to 12 months.
Compost is one of nature’s best mulches and soil amendments, and you can use it instead of commercial fertilizers. Best of all, compost is cheap. You can make it without spending a cent. Using compost improves soil structure, texture, and aeration and increases the soil’s water holding capacity. Composting improves both your property as well as environment.
For more information on composting, log on to: http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/ho/ho75/ho75.pdf . Or contact the Franklin County Cooperative Extension Service at 695-9035 or email DL_CES_Franklin@email.uky.edu.