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Gardening

If you leave the leaves and the clippings alone, you don’t have to fertilize. Here’s the proof.

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
  • Updated: November 10, 2017
  • Published November 9, 2017

A mower left on a lawn in the Government Hill neighborhood of Anchorage. Photographed Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

I just got back from two trips to the East Coast where I found myself smack dab in the middle of suburbia. I was once again struck by the amount of attention paid to ridding lawns of leaves (and grass clippings).

Having grown up in the area, I remember raking leaves in the fall and sometimes having to rake up grass clippings when I mowed after a hard rain and there would be too much grass left in rows that followed the path of the mower. Other than that, you never saw a rake. Leaf blowers were unheard of (and from).

Of course, you never see a rake today, either. For the most part, leaf and lawn clipping cleaning is done with gas-powered, backpack leaf blowers. My father immediately complained when these came on the market. He knew what was coming, a prescient warning if ever there was one.

Anyhow, I am hard pressed to remember a time between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. during these trips when I couldn't hear at least one blower. At times there were teams of workers walking in tandem, elephants on parade, using their trunks to blow to the curb what few leaves there were. After all, if you blow leaves every week, all summer long, there are not going to be many left come late August or September.

It was amazing, really. In more than one instance I could literally count the number of leaves on a lawn with one hand. It has simply become the norm to run blowers over lawns as part of the weekly mowing. And, it wasn't just the landscape contractors, either.

Why? All that work, all that noise, when simply mowing leaves would do just fine. No one would notice the difference, except for all the neighborhood that has to endure the constant whine of blowers.

I became a bit obsessed with all the leaf blowing and started to worry about those that were accumulating on our lawn in Anchorage. Normally, I run them over with the mower two or three times during the season and that is that. This year, I was away and feared not only that there was going to be too much snow cover to accomplish the chore, but the leaves would be too deep to mulch up.

Imagine my surprise when I come up the driveway last week before the snow only to discover green, bare lawn. What happened to those leaves I work on every fall? Sure, there were some piled up along the fences and under trees and shrubs, but everything, leaf-wise, looked as if it was summer. Before we left, I mowed the lawn short. While we were away, the wind, rain and worms took care of them.

That does it for me! Next fall, I am not touching a leaf and will let them be. My only change will be to let the lawn grow higher under the trees so it will catch and hold more leaves.

Here is the other thing I noticed. Before the snow, our lawn was not only clear of leaves, it was as green as can be. The front lawn is full of moss, for which I rejoice, but even the back grass lawn looks as if it has been professionally fertilized. Once again, proof that if you leave the leaves and the clippings, you don't have to fertilize.

Check out your lawn (next time it is clear of snow). If it looks as good as mine does, you may be convinced to ignore most of the old care guidelines; not raking up those grass clippings and leaves and laying off the chemical fertilizers is what does the trick. Not working has its advantages.

Jeff's garden calendar:

Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at the Alaska Botanical Garden: There will be a meet-and-greet at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, at the greenhouse. Free for those with tickets to the 7:30 p.m. show at Discovery Theatre, $10 for non-ticket holders.

Wreath making with recycled and natural materials: 12-1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 28: $40-$45; see alaskabg.org/event.

Poinsettias: They are coming to an outlet near you. Make sure you don't expose them to drafts on the ride home.

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