Usually I try to find the easiest way to do something. Taking care of leaves in the fall is no exception, as I would rather watch Big Red football or Volleyball. I use my mower and mulch them into my lawn or I put the bag on and pick them up for the compost pile. My self-propelled mower is much easier than a rake. My wife and I do rake the leaves from the lilac hedge and other shrubs, and my wife rakes the leaves from her flower garden. These we gather up for the compost pile. I may run my mower over them or grind them in my small electric grinder so they decompose more rapidly. Grass and leaves do not go to the landfill!!!

          Mulching the grass in the summer or the leaves in the fall, does not increase thatch. Remember, thatch comes from overgrown roots caused by over fertilization of your lawn, and mowing your grass too short. The best way to prevent thatch and have a healthy lawn is (1) do not over fertilize, (2) do not mow your grass short, and (3) core aerate at least once per year.

          Also, chopping up the leaves with your mower and putting them back into your lawn is beneficial, according to a study done by Michigan State University turf specialists, and supported by University of Nebraska specialists. You do not want to put them on too thick, and you may want to go over them with your mower more than once so they are finely chopped. If you can’t see the green grass or most of it, they are too thick. Remember, about the middle of October this fall, it is important to put on a good fall/winter fertilizer. The nitrogen in the fertilizer helps to break down the chopped leaves and grass and the potash is good for hardiness. If you put on a winter fertilizer in mid-September, you probably will want to add another bag in mid-October as our fall temperatures make the grass continue to grow and the nitrogen will probably be used up and not carried over to spring.

          If you don’t want to mulch your lawn, you can put the catcher on and bag the chopped leaves. Chopped leaves can be used as mulch over your roses and other plants, tilled into your garden, or added to your compost pile.  “Chopped” leaves break down faster in the compost pile and do not mat when used around your rose bushes or other perennials. From the mower bag directly to the compost pile or garden also saves on plastic bags or paper bags. PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT!!!

          If you don’t want to use your mower, the next alternative is to rake your leaves, spread them out over the vegetable garden, and till them in, or put them in the compost pile. Do not put un-chopped leaves on your roses or use as mulch on other plants as they usually will mat down and therefore are not as beneficial. 

          As a last resort put the leaves in a paper bag and send them to your city compost recycling. These leaves and grass clippings end up as good compost after two years. In the spring and summer this good compost is usually available free of charge or for a small price. RECYCLE THOSE LEAVES!!!



          Before planting spring-flowering bulbs in a new garden or in a new bed, check the soil drainage.  If you have slow drainage, do not plant, especially bulbs, in this area without improving the drainage. Bulbs enjoy moisture but can not stand wet feet as they will rot.

          To check the drainage of your soil, dig a hole 12 inches wide and 12 inches long and 12 to 18 inches deep.  Fill the hole with water and let it drain dry.  Refill the hole with water.  If you have well drained soil the water will run out at the rate of about 1 inch per hour.  If it runs out too fast, add organic matter to help hold the water. If it runs out too slow add organic matter to help loosen the soil so it drains better.  If you have added compost and it feels crumbly but the water drains slowly, you may have a hard layer of clay (hard pan), or a rock, or some material left over from construction, just under the top soil.  The only way to correct this is to dig deeper and break up that hard pan that keeps the water from draining, or remove the rock or construction debris. One cause of “Hard Pan” in a vegetable garden is running a tiller at the same depth year, after year, after year. The tines beat down on the soil and cause it to compact at that level.



          Most of the soil in Southeast, South Central, and Central Nebraska is alkaline. That means the pH is between 6.0 and 7.5. If you do not know the pH of your soil, get a pH meter, a small soil test kit, or better yet have your soil tested. A soil test by a soil lab will let you know exactly what you need to amend your soil for what you want to grow, be it vegetable or flower or turf. To locate a lab that will test your soil, contact your local county extension office. Because of our alkaline soil, do not add limestone unless a pH test indicates the need, regardless of what your favorite garden book says. It was probably written by someone on the east coast for gardeners in that area that have acidic soil.

          There are a number of plants that prefer acidic soil or a pH of 5.3 to 6.5. These include Azalea, Rhododendron, Blueberries, Pin Oak trees, some River Birch trees, Blue Hydrangeas, onions and radishes. Do not attempt to grow Blueberries in Nebraska without adding lots of “Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss” (50% peat moss and 50% garden soil) and granular sulfur (not sulfur dust) before planting. And then add granular sulfur to the soil at least once per year. Remember, it takes about 6 months for lime and sulfur to adjust the pH of soil. Therefore the best time to start is in the fall. Add the necessary amendment, at the recommended rate, and then work it into the soil. Your garden will be ready next spring to grow what you want to.

Copyright 2012