Now that the Thanksgiving dinners have passed and we're afraid to look at the scale, we can be thankful that there are some calorie-burning activities we can do in the yard.
Because the leaves have mostly all fallen out of the trees, we can avoid weighing ourselves and start weighing our options for handling the cleanup of these leaves. A few leaves left lying on the grass won't hurt a bit, but a thick mat of leaves can prevent sunlight from reaching the turf. Grass that is covered for a long time (all fall) will not be able to make the carbohydrates it needs to survive the winter. Raking and composting the leaves is an excellent way to get rid of them, and an excellent way to use leaves later as compost material.
You could also mow the leaves with a mulching mower and let the shredded leaves infiltrate the grass blades until they reach the ground, where they can decompose more rapidly. A side discharge mower will also work, but it won't chop up the leaves as finely.
These methods should be done periodically throughout the fall and winter as more leaves fall or blow into your yard. The mowing should be done when you can still see some grass blades peeking through the leaf layer.
One might wonder if mulching all these leaves into the ground under the grass is actually bad for our yards. Researchers at Michigan State University mulched around a 6-inch thick layer of leaves into a test lawn once a year for five consecutive years and saw no detrimental effects to the lawn. The turf quality, thatch thickness, organic content of the thatch, and the soil test results all were unaffected by the leaf mulching research.
If you are mowing/ mulching leaves into your yard, and you have cool-season grass, you may want to consider starting a fall nitrogen fertilization program, while also core-aerating in the fall. If you have warm-season grass, then you can still mulch your leaves into the turf, but you can wait until May or June to do your nitrogen fertilizing and core-aerating.
Some other things we can be cleaning up before winter sets in are our iris beds. While nobody is probably thinking about them until spring, there are two common problems in iris that you can start combating right now. A fungal disease, iris leaf spot, and an insect, the iris leaf borer, both cause problems in iris in the spring. Both the fungus and the eggs of the borer overwinter on the old, dead leaves of iris. If you remove those dead leaves this fall, as well as other garden and plant debris from the iris bed, you can reduce the populations of these pests, which will reduce the problems with your iris next year. While I'm on the subject of fall yard chores and composting, I want to talk about preparation of garden soil in the fall. Fall is an excellent time to add organic materials and till garden soils, as long as the ground is dry and not frozen. Working soil while it's wet destroys soil structure and can cause large, hard clods that are slow to break down. If you are adding organic matter, remember that there is a limitation to how much material you can add at one time. In this case, you'll want to try to add already chopped up leaves and plant material to your garden, so they'll break down faster. Anywhere from 2 to 5 inches of chopped up organic matter added to the garden is plenty.
--If you have any questions about this article or anything related, contact Mike Epler at the Leavenworth County Extension Office on the corner of Hughes and Eisenhower roads in Leavenworth, or call (913) 250-2300.