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Mr. Smarty Plants - Removal of live oaks leaves on lawn in Austin

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Tuesday - October 11, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Trees
Title: Removal of live oaks leaves on lawn in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We have about a half inch or so of mostly live oak leaves still on the ground which I thought was good root protection and also holds in moisture. There is a small group of people in our condo subdivision who want to see all the leaves removed. Can you please advise me? What will happen if we remove all the leaves?

ANSWER:

Usually, we try to stay out of homeowner's disagreements, including Homeowner Association Rules. However, since you asked, we will tell you what we think of leaving live oak leaves on the ground. We realize that you are looking at this as a mulch, and possibly also thinking of allowing those leaves to "compost in place." We are always in favor of mulches and compost for, as you say, protecting roots and holding in moisture. However, we can tell you from personal experience that live oak leaves resist composting. We had a very active compost pile and one big live oak that, of course, dumped all its leaves right after we had finally gotten all the post oak leaves into the compost pile. We quickly learned that trying to ignore them didn't work. The only way those live oak leaves were going to break down and help the soil was for them to be intensively composted. In our case, this included working them into a lot of brown material (the post oak leaves), keeping it moist, perhaps adding grass clippings or cottonseed meal for nitrogen to keep it cooking. And still, a year later, the live oak leaves were intact and green, standing out in the rest of the lovely soft brown compost. We realize that in a condo subdivision you do not have room for a compost pile, and it might not even be allowed. But we also discovered that just leaving those leaves lying there made the area look very trashy, and other small bits of twigs and debris got intermixed into it, and it all blew around, everywhere.

We do hate to see those leaves raked up and sent to the landfill-a lot of water and nutrition went into them. We once lived in a town (Brenham) where you could take your leaves and clippings to a community compost pile. The city would not take those materials to the landfills, bagged up in plastic bags. We tried to find out if Austin had such a project, but we did find this article from the Austin Chronicle The Dirt on Composting. City of Austin Solid Waste Services has a website on a Home Composting Rebate Challenge.

Beyond that, we don't think we can offer a solution, just the suggestion that perhaps you and your neighbors could find a productive way to do away with leaves on the ground, turning them into good DIRT!

 

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