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Get free mulch -- rake leaves

All those leaves may be an annoyance, but they're also a great resource for your garden: Mulch or compost them. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

Make use of this abundant fall resource

Some of the best mulch for your garden is most likely piling up around your yard.

Fall leaves are nature’s mulch. In forests and woods, layers of leaves protect tree roots during cold months and replenish soil nutrients.

Take a cue from nature; instead of raking away this resource, mulch your leaves.

Those leaves are good for your soil and plants. Even better, they’re free and right there, ready to recycle.

When mulching, use leaves free of disease or pests. For example, don’t mulch or compost peach foliage infected with leaf curl. If birch leaves are super sticky, they most likely harbor aphids.

That still leaves a lot of leaves. Small or easily crumbled foliage works best. It can be applied directly to vegetable and flower beds or spread under trees and shrubs. Spread a single layer 2 to 3 inches thick or more.

Chop up large leaves such as sycamore with a lawn mower. Spread the leaves in a single layer on the lawn, then mow over the leaves. After a couple of passes, the leaves are mulch ready.

Save some leaves for composting, too. Dried fall leaves add the “brown” to balance greens in an active compost pile. If you have space, stash a few big bags of leaves to add to your compost next spring.

Speaking of leaves, make sure your gutters are clear. Sacramento’s first rain of leaf season is expected Tuesday night. Avoid clogging drains by moving street piles up onto lawn. It only takes four or five large and well-placed leaves to clog a storm drain and flood a street.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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