A Leaf from the Wellfield Playbook; Thank You Very Mulch

When the leaves are down in life, what do you do? I am back with another hip, non-hipsta tip for your Friday perusal. Elkhart County has recently explored alternatives to the popular practice of burning one’s leaves – excuse me while I offer a slightly sensitive editorial opinion on the state of fall leaf cleanup in Michiana.

I live in Concord Township. Every fall, I experience the eternal flame my neighbors ignite, setting the world ablaze. We tend to love burning millions of cubic yards of leaves in this part of the country. I love fires like the next person; however, it just seems like such a waste of time, not to mention the environmental and health concerns leaf smoke poses to residents. There are several options available to all county residents (more options if you live outside city limits, you lovers of the flame) for fall leaf cleanup.

The first option is to blow or bag them for curb pickup. The pickup service takes it to a composting center (hopefully) which processes and then sells it back to you as topsoil. Seems insane to pay for pickup (i.e. taxes) and then pay for soil amendments to enrich the garden. Plus, think about how much more energy is consumed in the whole process.

The second option is to collect or pile all your leaves for a compost pile onsite. Depending on the volume and how much you want to actively turn the compost pile or how quickly you want rich dark humus, this second option might be better.

Mulch mowing the leaves is a third option. This seems like the best, and possibly easiest, option in the long run. A mature hickory/oak canopy dominates most of Wellfield’s acerage. Needless to say, we produce a lot of leaf litter of which none leaves the property nor is added to a compost pile. We mulch mow the entire season including right through peak leaf drop. There are a lot of benefits to mulching your leaves. The leaves are ideally temporarily removed from each flower bed, piled along the Promenade and chopped finely. They are then put right back in the bed as a top dressing.

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Come spring, the leaf litter has disappeared into the soil, feeding another spring flush. We are feeding and building soil, cycling the nutrients, composting in place with comparatively little effort on our part. We are encouraging and supporting nature’s cycles; returning organic matter to the earth rather than disrupting that system. I would hate to see all that free material go up in smoke.

Josh Steffen, Horticulture and Facilities Manager