John Packard has spent most of his life working in and enjoying the outdoors. During high school and after college he labored and lived on a 200 acre produce farm in Pennsylvania. In 1993 he moved permanently to Wisconsin, where he has gardened and landscaped ever since. As a partner in Mother Nature and Sons (1995-2002) he helped introduce natural garden design and organic maintenance to south-eastern Wisconsin. Since 2003 he has owned and operated Botanica Fine Gardens and Landscapes in Lake Geneva. Botanica emphasizes gardening in harmony with nature, land stewardship and horticultural best practice. John’s horticultural interests include: woodland and prairie restoration, vegetables, conifers, native plants, weed management, artisanal stonework, and enjoying the fruits of his labors with good friends, beer and music at the end of the day.

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Sane Leaf Management
by John Packard - posted 10/08/12

Fall has arrived in southern Wisconsin, and along with the autumn harvest and stunning fall colors comes the acrid odor of burning leaves and incessant drones of backpack blowers.  Why do gardeners and landscapers chose to ruin this most glorious time of the year with pollution and noise?  Sane leaf management would keep our air cleaner, our neighborhoods quieter and make the most of a valuable source of organic matter.


1) Mow your leaves into your lawn. Many gardeners believe that leaves are a healthy lawn’s enemy. On the contrary, research at Purdue, Michigan State and Cornell demonstrates that lawns suffer no ill effects from mulching leaves into them:

Leaf Mulching Effects on Turf Performance

Mulching Tree Leaves into Kentucky Bluegrass Turf-An Update

Mulched Maple and Oak Leaves Associated with a Reduction in Common Dandelion Populations in Established Kentucky Bluegrass

Botanica only removes leaves from yards when they become too thick to mow.  We do a bulk removal but do not scour the lawn.  Scouring exposes the soil to invading weed seeds, removes Nitrogen-rich lawn clippings, and is costly and resource intensive. Yes, after mowing-in leaves the lawn isn’t as tidy as a scoured lawn, but more leaves will soon fall to cover our tracks.


This decade-old recyling mower does a great job mulching in moderate layers of leaves.

The deck height is set at 3", but will be raised to 5" when the leaf layer is thicker.

When the leaves become too thick to mow, Botanica removes them.


2) Mulch your gardens with shredded leaves. A decent lawn mower with a sharp blade will finely mulch dry leaves.  A 3-4” layer of this mulch can then be used in both vegetable and ornamental gardens to suppress weeds, to insulate roots against winter cold and to add organic matter.  To prevent the dry leaves from blowing out of beds, run a sprinkler for an hour or two to wet them down.  Yes, leaf mulch isn’t as tidy as wood chips or gravel, but it is better for the plants, your pocketbook and the planet.


3) Compost your leaves.  If you have the space, pile your leaves in a secluded corner of the yard.  Even with no active effort to turn the pile, the leaves will break down in a few years and produce a rich humus that makes an excellent mulch or soil amendment.  Burning is an environmental nightmare that wastes a valuable resource and is illegal in many municipalities. If you don't have space to compost your leaves, then mowing and mulching is a good alternative. Yes, composting your leaves is more work than burning them in a pile, but it also makes the most of a valuable resource without the pollution.


As we revel in autumn’s vivid hues, let us acknowledge both the beauty and value of falling leaves. Mowing, mulching and composting our leaves turns a smelly noisy menace into an asset to our lawn and gardens, to our neighborhood and to our planet.





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