What to do with all these live oak leaves?!

dallasmodernApril 13, 2008

Mulch?

Compost?

Trash?

We have a half-acre yard with about a dozen large, mature trees, mostly live oak. We are drowning in leaves. We are renovating the house and not living in it yet, so we have been doing the yard about every other week. We have a lawn-mower style mulching yard vac, and using that on just the lawn (not the beds), will give us about 24 bags (42 gallon size) of shredded leaves each time we do it.

We are tempted to just mow/mulch and not bag, but the very shady yard is planted with St.Augustine, which is very thin and spotty (we have numerous dirt patches where there is no grass) and I'm concerned that the leaves even when mulched fine are blocking light just based on the sheer volume. Also, at the root of the grass there are many damp leaves that the mower and vac won't pick up. Also, given the sheer quantity of leaves, I'm a touch concerned that we will frustrate the neighbors who work very hard at keeping a leaf-free yard with our shredded leaves blowing over to their golf course like lawn.

Would love to compost but have never done it and don't know where to put such a large volume of leaves, and how to "balance" the mulch pile. What could we possibly add in enough volume to compliment the leaves? Plus, these waxy live oak leaves don't want to decompose easily!

I guess this is two questions really...

--What DO we do with all these leaves?

--What do we do considering the already poor grass condition? (I have been reading the "How grow St Augustine grass under live oaks ?" thread, but I am not yet sure what the take-away is...)

Thanks!

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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

Use it as mulch on your plant bed and throw soybean meal on them to help break down faster.

You can put down soybean meal on the lawn at the rate of 20lbs per 1000 sqft to help break them down faster to compost which will in turn improve the soil and provide nitrogen to the lawn as well. Perhaps spraying molasses will help speed up decomposition as well. You can get unsulfured molasses at grocery store and use end hose sprayer (make sure to mix it with apple cider vinger to help dilute molasses because it is quite bit thick).

Ignore your neighbors. That's their problem.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 11:56AM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

It sounds like you may have too many trees so you might want to think about taking out a few trees to let in more sun so you can have decent lawn as long as it does not take too much shade away from the house from west/south exposure during the summer.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 12:00PM
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austinwildflower

We are renovating a house near us with 3 live oaks, which completely envelope the yard in total shade all summer long. Being in the city we don't have to worry much about having a perfect lawn but I've decided to landscape the front yard using several beds with shade plants. Outside of the beds I'm laying granite and pea gravel for pathways and underneath outdoor tables as little sitting areas (it's so nice to sit under those live oaks in the summer!). That means no lawn, but there is just no way to grow it underneath these, not even St. Augustine.

I did plant about 40 pots of monkey grass and liriope (also sometimes called "lilyturf") around the base of the tree (not adding any soil at all). Both stay green year-round, get no watering once they're established, can grow in heavy root areas, you can mow it, and although not exactly a lawn, at least make clean deep green areas of 'grass' that are easy on the eyes). I did this after noticing a neighbor's plantings like that under their pecans. I'll see if I can get a photo of it.

Many people also plant types of spiderwort around trees and shrubs, although you have to keep an eye on some of them... but mine don't spread where I don't want them and they're easy to pull out.

as far as mowing, we bag half and put it on the curb, and I use the rest in a compost pile or for mulching as lou suggested. I have a mulching mower and I know you can get bags to catch the mulch so that it doesn't blow everywhere? I know from doing it last year that the leaves do blow pretty far and all over the place--unlike with grass--and so maybe a bag attachment would be the way to go. That'd make it a lot easier to take the leaves to a compost pile. About 2 big compost bins behind your house will hold at least half of those mulched leaves. Hope this helps with ideas!

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 2:45PM
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sylviatexas1

Your trees are valuable assets.

St Augustine is...just grass.
water-hogging, time-consuming, finicky stuff that never will be happy & that will use up your life & all your gardening money.

As has been mentioned already, you can put groundcovers under the trees-
they're beautiful, they're extremely low-maintenance, many of them stay green year-round, some of them flower, & you don't have to mow them-
just give them a quick shearing with a string trimmer about twice a year (when you do this, stand between the trimmer & the tree, shearing away from the trunk-if you girdle the trunk, you'll sever the tree's lifeline; trim close to the trunk with hand shears).

You can compost every leaf that falls:

just pile them up in a designated area & add kitchen scraps, coffee grounds from Starbucks, grass clippings that you pick up free at the curb or in the alley all summer, & maybe the purchased products already mentioned, alfalfa, soybean, molasses.

Wetting down the leaves will help keep them from blowing, or you can make a simple "pen" for your compost by driving 4 long pieces of re-bar into the ground & stretching chicken wire around them.

Golf course lawns are an embarrassment in this day & age:
they came into being in the fifties, when the chemical companies sold so many homeowners on the virtues of better living chemically, which also involved trashing your own naturally-occurring soil amendments so that you really did have to turn to chemicals;

the neighbors undoubtedly think they're doing what they should, but they're living in an irresponsible & destructive past.

Forget the neighbors, forget the St Augustine, nurture the trees, & you'll have a gorgeous property that you'll enjoy for many years...& incidentally enhance your re-sale value.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 3:48PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

Sylvia, you're so wrong about st augustine being water hogging! Grass is valuable for keeping things cool and preventing soil erosion. JEEZ! I barely water my st augustine and they are so easy to maintain compared to bermuda. I never use chemical OF ANY KIND and it's one of better looking lawn for someone who never do anything with the lawn. Something tells me that you don't have a clue of how to maintain st augustine otherwise you wouldn't be making ridiculous complaints about st augustine grass. There is such thing as having too many trees on the property that would scare buyers away because there's no lawn to relax and play with kids!

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 5:04PM
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maden_theshade(8 - Austin)

eek, that's a lot of leaves! Does your area have a public mulching/recycle center? Austin and Round Rock have places the residents can take their brush and leaves for the city to mulch en masse...and you can pick up free mulch too! I would say 24 bags would be a bit much for a novice composter.

That said, I'm a lazy gardener and I force worms to do all that work for me. I have a small worm bin. When I start a new one, I fill it with leaves, some kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, shredded documents, etc and then put a cup full of live bait worms in the middle and cover it up w/ more leaves. As long as the pile stays moist, those worms will eat up everything in the bin and reproduce like crazy! I saw a post on the vermicomposting forum from a guy who said he used a 55 gallon trash can w/ a lid. It's the easiest composting I've ever done. Once the bin is mostly turned into dirt, you can just dump it out and spread it where you like.

Being the lazy gardener, I agree w/ Sylvia. StA is just grass...boring to look at and time consuming! And virtually impossible to grow in heavy shade. You'll be much happier w/ shade loving ground covers that require almost no maintance and still look terrific! Then you'll have tons more time to spend on your home renovations!

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 5:10PM
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zippity1

speaking from experience
you have to move the leaves if you want anything at all to grow under the trees or around them
we ended up taking many truckloads of bags to the garbage dump every single year
we raked them over to the driveway, ran the mulching mower over them and then put them in the bags
it takes forever for them to break down
our trees were beautiful, but i was relieved to leave the place because they took SO MUCH time cleaning up and i couldn't garden in most of the acre we had-tooooooo much shade

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 5:51PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Here is a picture of oak trees with lirope, aspidistras, holly fern, low understory shrubs with an occasionaly pot of shade loving color to give you an idea of what it looks like.

This place also has wide lawns of St. Augustine grass in heavy shade.

Here is a link that might be useful: More pix of Los Patios in San Antonio

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 7:07PM
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sylviatexas1

"so wrong"?
nope, grass is time-consuming & expensive to maintain, be it St Augustine or Bermuda.

& if there are 2 identical homes at the same price, the one with "too many trees" will sell more quickly & closer to the list price than the one with the lawn.

Even if you insist on gathering & discarding your leaves, you can *always* find someone on freecycle or craigslist to pick up bagged leaves; there's no reason to waste even more time & resources taking them to the dump.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 7:45PM
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nightrider767(San Antonio)

Sylvia, I think what Lou was alluding to is that St. Augustine gets a bit of a bad rap. Under normal conditions, St. Augustine should not be watered more than every two weeks. That's what I know, and that figure might actaully move a bit in either direction, but the point is, that it needs less water than most people think.

My beef with SA, at least in San Antonio, is that is does not like the calcium rich soil we have, and thus is typically a bit on the yellow side.

Either way, you both bring up excellent points and thanks for your posts...

Banana Mike

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 11:00PM
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jardineratx

the pics are great...thanks for sharing, Roselee. I love the way they have the oaks pruned with so many of the branches removed so that the sun and air are allowed through.
Molly

    Bookmark   April 14, 2008 at 7:57AM
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fool4flowers(8)

Put them on craigslist. There are always people looking for free leaves or get the brown leaf bags and put them at the curb and mine usually get picked up by someone before the recycle guys even come around. I just started my first compost pile and now I wish I had some of those leaves back I gave away, lol. Hubby didn't want me to do one but changed his mind so I have a ton of grass clippings and coffee grounds so far but its a start.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2008 at 2:55PM
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lynda40(Zone 8)

I have the same problem with my oaks. I have about 56 mature black jacks and live oaks. Recently read an article in Martha Stewart living about putting mulched oak leaves in black plastic bags (when you can't put them in compost yet)and set them in shade until you need them. Over time they will decompose on their own. Of course, be careful, if you keep them outside as critters can get inside and also the leaves can stink to high heaven. Just open and let them breathe for a while. add to compost. My worms are longer than my arm and as my son says fat and juicy for fishing. Oaks are very acidic so don't swamp your plants, mix it with mushroom compost, peat moss, dry grass clippings, etc and they will respond by growing better.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2008 at 12:14PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

This is my experience: not having any live oaks on my property, I collect between a hundred and a hundred and fifty bags of oak leaves from the curbsides of my neighbors every year about this time.

Most of them I put on the beds for mulch. I stack about twenty or thirty bags along the back fence out of sight for use throughout the rest of the year because in the beds they decompose into almost nothing by late summer, especially if we get some rain.

If the bags don't have a lot of grass clippings in them (I don't pick up those since they are too heavy) they don't produce an odor and are preserved in the bags just as they were when collected. If I stick holes in the bags to let rain in, or the leaves were raked when moist, they start to decompose into sweet smelling compost without producing an odor.

I used to have lawn guys that would dump leaves directly into my compost pile, which was constructed of a half circle of wire held away from the chain link fence by rebars pounded into the ground. With nothing added, no greens or anything, they composted down to very little well within a year; or in a few months if it rained. (In the old days when water was inexpensive I would wet them down.) I would just keep pulling the good stuff out from the bottom and just keep adding to the top.

I don't know why most everyone couldn't just make a area in an out of the way place to pile the leaves and let nature take its course. Love those oak leaves! :-)

    Bookmark   April 15, 2008 at 3:08PM
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kossetx

I have an acre fenced around my house, so about 2X yours. The oaks on my property get mulched into the ground. In addition, like roselee, I bring in 100-150 bags of other peoples leaves every winter and put them in a pile to compost, and 150 bags is not enough to satisfy me. When I get my trailer fixed I will up it to 500-1000 bags a year, but then I will have to move the compost outside my fence.

I would think with .5 acre you have enough room to take care of your own leaves and they make great compost. Pile 'em up and let 'em go. I don't really have a neighbor but I wouldn't worry if I did. My wife will complain about most anything :) and the pile of leaves doesn't bother her.

The down side to collecting leaves is I usually end up with garbage bags full of garbage bags. I have to throw a lot of those away. MP

    Bookmark   April 16, 2008 at 1:35PM
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dallasmodern

Wow! Thanks for all of the excellent replies. Last Sunday I tried to tackle the yard with the lawn vac. I got through 1/2 of the front yard and about 1/3 of the back yard in 8 hours. I ended up with 42 bags (42 gallon size) of shredded leaves. There are no grass clippings since it is just a vac and not a mower. Right now they are just stacked up. I think I will try to freecycle this round and try to save some from the next round (given this harvest, there should be plenty more!)for our first try at composting. I like the idea of the worm bin. Now I just have to find the best spot to put my pile/bin... Thanks again for all of the insights. As a total yard newbie, this has been very helpful. I'll keep you posted!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2008 at 12:13AM
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fool4flowers(8)

Good luck. I just saw on a garden show that if you put them in black plastic bags with holes poked in the in the sun and wet them and roll them over every so often they will compost just like that into nice rich stuff in a very short time. You only want them moist and not soaking wet. They should not stink unless they stay soaking wet and mildew maybe.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2008 at 1:15AM
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pricklypearsatx(z8)

It makes me feel better that I'm not the only person who has issues with neighbors and oak leaves. We are having the worse drought in recorded history, so I mulched all of my paths with oak leaves that I had gathered from the neighborhood. Were also having nitrogen probs too with this drought and are trees are struggling. So, I mixed some fertilizer with the leaves.

My neighbor said it looked "trashy". And she knows why I'm doing it.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2008 at 6:09PM
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garcherfloors_aol_com

i live i sealy . and a acre of aug. grass lots of live oak and pecan.you have to get the leafs up, they cause acid soil . put lime down to counter cut grass tall, but not until a day before it rains.if you cut in this drought you will have a hard time reviving your lawn. and the same goes for fertilizing a day before it rains you will be very surprised in the results good luck,ps i have a yard sweeper pull with rider and when it full lay out a full size bed sheet and dump leafs on it ,it will hold aprox 5 bags of leafs. sheets at wallmart a dollar fifty and reuse year after year

    Bookmark   April 24, 2011 at 8:54AM
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