Oh, how time flies! It’s already the end of October and the days are predictably getting shorter and cooler. The garden is slowing down for the winter and so is this Master Gardener “Get it Growing” column. During the months of November through February there will only be one column per month.
But, don’t worry! The column will bloom again in March with a whole new season of weekly gardening articles.
Leave the leaves
Slowing down does not mean stopping and there is still plenty of productive work to be done, especially if you have leaves (gardeners’ gold) piling up. Don’t look at leaves as the enemy, a problem to be raked up and thrown away, instead think of them as an integral part of the gardening cycle.
The weather and different creatures of the soil ecosystem will break down leaves slowly, returning their nutrients to the topsoil. This is a major contribution in creating the ideal loamy soil that all gardeners aspire to.
As they break down, the fallen leaves will provide a valuable habitat for a range of beneficial insects, bees, and wasps that will ward off harmful pests and eventually aid in pollination.
If the plants are healthy, leaves left on the ground will act as mulch and add fertility to the soil below without having to bring in carts full of other materials. In this case, letting nature take its course can be beneficial to the garden, as well as to the one who has to rake or haul.
So, don’t rake your leaves? Well, there are actually a few good reasons to rake leaves, but don’t throw them away! Too many leaves on a turf area or ground cover can exclude light, which can harm the growth beneath.
Likewise, leaves accumulating in a pond can cause it to become mucky and overloaded with vegetation. And it is always a good idea to clear leaves from paths or driveways where slipping could be a problem.
Many gardeners appreciate the benefits of leaves added to the compost pile, but there is another way to take advantage of fallen leaves.
If you have a lot of leaves to collect, making leaf mold can be a good idea. Leaf mold is a very easy way to cold compost leaves. It is one of the best mulches or soil conditioners that you can make. It can be used as a plain mulch, as a soil conditioner or added to potting mix for raised beds or containers.
There are a number of ways to make leaf mold, from a simple mound of leaves left to decompose, to a bin structure similar to other compost methods. It doesn’t have to be complex or exact, a narrow containment area along a fence using mesh wire that will contain the leaves and provide ventilation is adequate.
To speed up the process, leaves can be shredded with a lawn mower before being added to the leaf composing area. Almost all deciduous tree leaves work fine, especially when shredded. As with all composting materials, avoid getting weeds or weed seeds in your mix.
The beauty to making leaf mold is that once the leaves are contained, the hard work is done, it is very low maintenance. In dry weather, it is best to wet the leaves with a little water to make sure that the decomposition can continue. In extremely wet weather you can cover the area with a tarp to avoid too much water.
After one year, the leaves will have broken down into a crumbly mulch that can be placed around established plants in your garden. After two years the leaves will be more completely broken down and can be used as a soil additive.
In the long run, using your leaves to benefit your garden, whether as mulch or leaf mold is easier than bagging and throwing them away, and much better for the environment.
Fall, a great time to test your soil
Master Gardeners are constantly stressing the importance of soil testing. It is the basis of success in the garden. A soil test will not only outline what soil problem may exist, it will recommend solutions.
And now is a great time of year to get soil tests before the ground freezes. The test report will give you the information and time of year to correctly amend and prepare your garden for spring.
This is especially important if you prefer organic amendments that take time to break down into usable materials.
Go to the Clallam Conservation District (CCD) website at clallamcd.com for their Soil Test Brochure. It has clear information on collecting and submitting soil samples.
Once the results come in, Conservation Planners are available to assist you in understanding the results.
Master Gardener Calendars: Looking forward to 2022
The perfect hostess or “thinking about you” gift, just tie on a bow! These easy to mail calendars are perfect for your favorite gardeners and are full of outstanding, full-page, color photography and tons of gardening information, including the sought-after chart, “Recommended Planting Times and Vegetable Varieties for the North Olympic Peninsula.”
The 2022 calendar is on sale for $5 per copy at the following locations:
• WSU Extension office, Port Angeles Courthouse; contact Rhonda Raymond at 360-417-2279 or by email at email@example.com to set up an appointment.
• Woodcock Demonstration Garden, 2711 Woodcock Road, Sequim, Thursdays 10 a.m.-noon and whenever Master Garender events are being held.
• TAFY Sprouting Hope Greenhouse, 826 E. First St., Port Angeles; greenhouse hours are 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Monday-Saturday.
• Mail order option: Send a check payable to Master Gardener Foundation for the exact amount to: Master Gardener Program, Attn: Rhonda Raymond, 223 E 4th St., Suite 15, Port Angeles, WA 98362.