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Turn fallen leaves into garden gold

Follow Nature's lead — it's time to start some compost piles

Brown and gold leaves on the ground
That's not litter. Those leaves are the building blocks for an excellent compost pile -- and they're free for the raking. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)



This last week of fall really lived up to its name: Leaves fell everywhere!

Recent storms shook loose most of the foliage remaining on deciduous trees such as maples, pistache, sycamores and elms. Those leaves are now covering our sidewalks, patios, driveways, lawns and more.

What to do with that mess? Make garden gold. That’s what Nature does.

“A yard of fallen leaves may seem like a mess,” according to the Sierra Club. “But hidden in all that decomposing foliage is the perfect organic matter for a great pile of compost. So this year, instead of putting fall leaves in a garbage bag and sending them to the dump, put them to use.”

For composting newbies as well as longtime composters, the Sierra Club also offered these tips:

* Size matters — both in leaves and piles: The size of a leaf pile can make a big difference in how fast leaves decompose. Keep your leaf piles up to 3 feet square — 3 feet tall, wide and deep. That helps distribute the heat faster while keeping the pile easy to turn. Before adding to the pile, chop up larger leaves so they’ll break down faster. (A lawnmower works wonders for this task.)

* Choose a shady spot: The best place to site a pile is in a shaded area with good air flow and decent protection from rain or wind. If your pile gets too big, start another.

* Keep it fresh: Compost needs a mix of greens and browns for faster decomposition. Add freshly fallen leaves, vegetable and fruit peelings and grass clippings to your old brown leaves.

* Turn regularly: Once a week or so, take a shovel or pitchfork to turn (or mix) your compost. That aerates the pile and speeds the whole process.

Started now, your compost pile will turn those brown leaves to garden gold by mid-spring – just in time for tomato planting!

- Debbie Arrington

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Garden Checklist for week of May 19

Temperatures will be a bit higher than normal in the afternoons this week. Take care of chores early in the day – then enjoy the afternoon. It’s time to smell the roses.

* Plant, plant, plant! It’s prime planting season in the Sacramento area. If you haven’t already, it’s time to set out those tomato transplants along with peppers and eggplants. Pinch off any flowers on new transplants to make them concentrate on establishing roots instead of setting premature fruit.

* Direct-seed melons, cucumbers, summer squash, corn, radishes, pumpkins and annual herbs such as basil.

* Harvest cabbage, lettuce, peas and green onions.

* In the flower garden, direct-seed sunflowers, cosmos, salvia, zinnias, marigolds, celosia and asters.

* Plant dahlia tubers. Other perennials to set out include verbena, coreopsis, coneflower and astilbe.

* Transplant petunias, marigolds and perennial flowers such as astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia and verbena.

* Keep an eye out for slugs, snails, earwigs and aphids that want to dine on tender new growth.

* Feed summer bloomers with a balanced fertilizer.

* For continued bloom, cut off spent flowers on roses as well as other flowering plants.

* Don’t forget to water. Seedlings need moisture. Deep watering will help build strong roots and healthy plants.

* Add mulch to the garden to help keep that precious water from evaporating. Mulch also cuts down on weeds. But don’t let it mound around the stems or trunks of trees or shrubs. Leave about a 6-inch to 1-foot circle to avoid crown rot or other problems.

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