Leaves improve garden soil

Question: I am new at vegetable gardening and my garden did not produce as well as I had hoped. My neighbor said I need to improve my soil. How do I go about improving my soil? I have a rather hard clay soil.

Answer: The best way to improve any soil is to add organic matter. This is particularly true for hard clay soils. Now is a great time to add organic matter to your soil.

You can begin by spading under or tilling in all the leftover vegetable plants. If you use a large tiller, even large vegetables like corn stalks and broccoli plants can be chopped up. You can also layer these larger materials in a separate pile for composting. Chop them into smaller pieces if possible. Throw in a shovel of soil and a handful of lawn fertilizer. There are micro-organisms in the soil that will begin the breakdown process, and the fertilizer stimulates their activity.

Now cover your garden plot with a 3 or 4 inch layer of fallen leaves and grass clippings. If you don’t have enough leaves on your own property, ask the neighbors if you can have some of their leaves. Scatter 5 pounds of lime and one pound of lawn fertilizer per 100 square feet over the area and till or spade. The lime will make our acid soils more alkaline.

Incorporating the leftover plants and leaves into the soil now will cause them to break down into a rich humus over winter and early spring. If you wait until spring to do this, the process will be longer.

Now is a good time to add lime to all areas of your landscape. Simply scatter it under and around existing plants or use a spreader for your lawn. A 2 pound per 100 square feet rate is more normal over areas you will not be tilling.

I add more organic matter to the soil whenever I can. I scatter grass clippings between rows and around vegetable plants during the summer. Grass clippings keep clay soils from becoming hard on the surface and also shade the soil.

Leaves are a valuable resource. If you have too many for your vegetable garden, pile them in a corner and compost them for use as a mulch next summer.

An easy way to pick up leaves on the lawn is with a rotary lawn mower. The mower chops them up so they are less bulky and the leaves also break down faster.


Allen Wilson

Allen has been writing about gardening for over 30 years. He is a retired professor of Horticulture.

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