Alaskans are way, way ahead of everyone else when it comes to reinventing gardening and yard care. It must be part of our Alaskan independent streak that enables us to ignore all those ads demanding we buy product that may make plants greener or kill them, but at the expense of the environment and possibly our health. We are adjusting science that has certainly changed from when our parents “yardened.” And, we are taking our environs into consideration.
From the use of organics in lieu of herbicides and synthetic fertilizers to mulching and paying attention to native plants, we are — alas — eons beyond those Lower 48 yardeners who still apply high-nitrogen lawn fertilizers and kill dandelions and clover with glyphosate. Heck, we have the first organic botanical garden in the country and were the first to do something practical about climate change by entering Mowing Savings Time, skipping a mowing this season. (If you haven’t done so, you still can: Just don’t mow anymore, a bit easier with snowfall at hand.)
The real hallmark of our new skill set, however, is seen when the leaves drop. Hereabouts there is the recognition that we don’t need to, and in fact should not, rack up our leaves for deposit into a landfill. Given the snow of late, there is actually a possibility that you won’t be able to rake even if you want to, but not to worry! The fact of the matter is these leaves, along with the summer’s grass clippings, take the place of fertilizers by supporting the right set of microbes that feed grass plants.
I saw a piece in my national news feed last week that suggested readers not rake autumn leaves. It sounded like a novel idea to the Outside author, who clearly doesn’t realize that Alaskans long ago proved lawns are not smothered by letting leaves remain on the ground all winter. And while many of us mulch leaves with a mower after they fall, there is now plenty of evidence that even when you don’t, they decay and your lawn reappears in the spring better for the winter’s leaf cover. Soon, even those in the Lower 48 will catch up to us and realize leaves should never be removed from a yard.
Perennial beds as well as lawns benefit from a layer of leaves. These are important enough for me to suggest that those that don’t have lots of leaves actually collect some from the few neighbors left up here who don’t realize leaves are true Alaska gold. Make sure there are no dogs in the neighbor’s yard and wait for them to be bagged up and placed on the curb for refuse pick-up. Get some extra bags for next year’s composting efforts or to mulch new gardens and plantings.
I put the old raspberry patch into that perennial bed category and surround plants with a good layer of leaves. These will decay this winter and your bushes will be all set. If thick enough, you won’t have weeds next year, either.
Speaking of bushes, add some additional leaves beneath lilacs and such if you can, realizing snow may make that difficult. However, these leaves will supplement the plants and give them a boost next year.
All Alaska gardeners know leaves are broken down by the soil food web. They are great for supporting microbial populations, which produce the right kind of nitrogen for perennials. Your vegetable gardens like the microbes which decay grass clippings, but if you grind up leaves with your lawn mower, you can get pretty much the same results with much less risk of introducing seeds.
Finally, I recognize that you may not want leaves everywhere. The deck and driveway might need a good raking or, dare I suggest, a blowing. If we are going to do Mowing Savings Time to save the environment, however, then we should also switch to battery operated blowers. Gas blowers should be banned, as they are in Washington, D.C. Mowing Savings Time includes “no more small gas engines to take care of yards” and especially tree leaves, which should not be removed. Again, I am pretty sure we Alaska Yardeners are ahead of the curve on this. If you are not, get there while the Lower 48 catches up.
Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar
Alaska Botanical Garden: Now is the time to join. Really! There are winter classes and members get the best deal. Do check out this month’s activities at alaskabg.org, especially the Halloween activities.
Driveway stakes: Now is the time to put markers into the ground to keep the plow from damaging the lawn and to outline where the walks are.
Garlic: Plant some. It is not too late.
Fall fertilizer: Now is when to apply organic fertilizers to outdoor beds. They work their way down during the winter and require that time to become more available.