Many websites and blogs these days are extolling the virtues of using leaves from your trees as mulch or as great additions to a compost pile. And I would never argue those points.
However, oak tree leaves - especially those that have been mulch-mowed - are NOT good left on the lawn. And at this time of year, I’m specifically talking about leaves from live oaks.
Decomposing oak leaves cause two problems that must be rectified before your grass will pop back this spring. First, ground-up leaves, even small particles, can build up as thatch - an organic layer near the soil surface. It can impede water from moving into the soil, bind up fertilizer nutrients, and harbor lawn pests. So, it's best to rake leaves off the lawn and add them to a compost pile. If you don’t have a compost pile, just throw them away.
The second problem with most oak leaves is their high level of tannins that slow down their decomposition process. Oak leaves can still be composted, however - all leaves and many fruits have tannins, but freshly fallen oak leaves have far more. When adding a large amount of oak leaves to a compost pile, mix them with other types of leaves, straw or newspaper to maintain a good decomposition rate. For more on building a compost pile, search online for "Composting 101" or "Composting for Beginners." There are thousands of websites and videos out there.
Over the past two weeks in my consulting business, I’ve seen many lawns covered with live oak leaves because the trees are getting ready for spring by shedding old growth. So, get out and rake them off your lawn, and do it again in another week or so. That way, you’ll be ready to jump back into my lawn fertilization schedule on time, with the early green-up 15-5-10 fertilizer, trace elements like Azomite, and getting down the required February pre-emergent herbicide. With leaves removed, all these products will make good contact with the soil, do their jobs well, and not be a waste of money.
As always, if you have questions or need any clarification on this, give me a call this weekend on the GardenLine radio show.
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