Mow fall leaves into lawn to boost soil

Is there such thing as leaf-cycling? I grass-cycle. Do leaves add fertilizer to lawns like grass clippings do? How deep can I make the shredded leaves?

Green organic materials are high in nitrogen. Grass-cycling can add as much as half of your lawn's yearly nitrogen fertilizer. Brown organic materials, such as leaves, improve soil structure and add some nitrogen, though not as much as is added by the same weight of grass clippings.

By all means, leaf-cycle by mowing your fallen leaves and grass. You should be able to see grass blades above the shredded leaves. Save excess shredded leaves in a pile and use them as mulch or organic amendment next growing season.

The pH of my vegetable garden is 7.5. Do I need to lower it? I add leaves and organics this time of year.

The optimum soil pH is 6.0 to 6.8 for a vegetable garden. Most vegetables will even grow reasonably well in a pH of 5.5 to 7, but at 7.4 or higher it is way too alkaline and time to lower the pH.

To lower the pH of a loamy soil to 6.5, apply 18.4 pounds of sulfur per 1,000 square feet. Working sulfur, along with your organic materials, into the soil with tiller or shovel will change your pH much more quickly than spreading sulfur on the surface and covering with organics.

University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information. Call 800-342-2507 or send a question from the website at

Plant of the week

Dusty Miller

Jacobaea maritima

Few flower garden plants are tough enough to maintain their good looks into winter, but dusty miller can pull it off in mild years. Dusty miller is popular for its silver-white, wooly finely divided foliage. In moonlight, velvety hairs reflect light, adding a striking touch to edging, containers, or beds. Although technically a perennial, dusty miller is usually treated as an annual, since it doesn't hold up into the second summer. It grows 8 to 16 inches tall, depending on the cultivar, in compact clumps. Best in full sun, it will tolerate light shade. It prefers soil high in organic material but performs well in dry sandy soils.

— Ginny Williams

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