Monday, November 04, 2013

Zen and the Art of Meta-Mulchin

My earlier posting - "Staying Together by Being Apart" - prompted conversation from two members of my Mens Garden Club ("S" and "J") and in turn my response below.

On a similar note, considering that in my backyard I have a 60 year old Maple, 7 fruit trees, along needle pine that is 40' tall, and my neighbor has a 50 year old Oak not to mention about 25 of my deciduous shrubs, I had someone asked why Idon't have a large pile of leaves at the curb.

The truth of the matter is that I can take a full yard of ankle deep leaves and mulch them right into the lawn.  If it builds up too much, I can blow the fragments into the beds as mulch.  I  have not added any chemicals to the lawn for over 8years now and it remains the greenest on the block.  I now realize the return of crickets,  Katydids, frogs, and things that go click in the night.

True, my front lawn Dogwood leaves do get swept along the street and down the hill somewhere.  Ihave often wondered who is the recipient.  They probably get all the leaves from up here..


Quite coincidentally, this last month, based on a fortuitous misunderstanding of a neighbor's stray comment, I too have been mulching my leaves right back into the lawn. The mulched leaf debris basically disappears in a day or so. I don't know that I'll have the guts to mulch ankle-deep, but I'll certainly consider it. Also, a quick check on-line shows mulching leaves is not only OK, but is in fact recommended. Among many other references, here's one describing a pretty exhaustive study done 1991 to 1996 by Michigan State University:

The Michigan study's bottom line is that yearly mulching ankle deep (100 lbs of leaves per 1000 square feet) oak and maple leaves is not only very beneficial (as to lawn health, soil nutrients, and pH). Mulched maple leaves in particular seem to have an fantastic weed anti-germination capability. The one caveat is you have to put down a pound or so of nitrogen per 1000 feet each fall to help feed the microbials that devour the leaves.

Coincidentally (yet again...), on a lark yesterday afternoon, in my 'green belt' out back I spent a half-hour driving my lawn tractor over the still two-foot deep pile of dried leaves from last year to see if I could mulch them down in anticipation of this year's coming pile (I was also thinking I'd maybe speed up the decomposition process for spring compost). The dang pile just disappeared into utter dust!! True, the tractor had a tendency to plow the leaves into a pile deeper than the tractor could ascend, so I had to manually rake the pile(s) back down to drivable height. Put out a lot of dust also I'll allow. But when all was said and done what had been a two-foot deep pile of leaves was just naked dirt at the end with a fine powder of former leaf biomass.

Food for thought here!


For many years I too mulched all of my fallen leaves – using a variety of powered push mowers, each with its own version of a mulching device.  At the height of the leaf-dropping season I was chopping up the foliage at least once a week – anything less frequent than that resulted in a layer of leaves too thick to be diced at all. 

Unfortunately the rate of decomposition frequently was slower than the pace of production – with the net result being that by week number three I was placing a third tier of newly chopped fronds atop two other oh-so slowly-rotting layers – aka mulching mulch or meta-mulching.  Then winter set in and decomp would go into a state of suspended animation.  When the spring thaw finally arrived my lawn was still covered with a coating of freeze-dried compost.

Then there was the moral issue.  In my Al Gore moments, I wondered whether the ecological benefit I was providing to my lawn was outweighed by the ecological damage I was doing to the atmosphere with my CO2-belching mulch-master.

Plus raking is so much more of a Zen activity.

So I compromised. 

We will probably give the lawn one more good raking just before the first round of leaf pickup during the week of November 11.  Then, with luck, I’ll make one or maybe two passes over the lawn with my Toro and chop up the final set of fallen leaves.

Unless of course the stubborn oak leaves hang on until the town leaf collections have ceased and my mower has gone into winter storage.  Then maybe I’ll just go retro and bring out the torches.

Full disclosure: In early April Mario the landscaper comes and does the spring cleanup of all the leaves that I miss in the fall.  He wields an industrial strength leaf blower with one hand, a cell phone with the other while smoking a cigarette.  Now that’s real Zen.

No comments: