Well-composted leaves help soil

Backyard Q&A

March 23, 2003|By Dennis Bishop | Dennis Bishop,Special to the Sun

I am preparing soil to plant a perennial border and would like to till in some composted leaves. How much should I add, and do I need to add anything else?

Most local soils are poorly balanced. They have very high clay content, but are short on organic matter. Adding composted leaves to your bed is a very easy and practical way to correct this imbalance.

If that were the case, I would till a 2- to 3-inch layer of composted leaves into the bed. The leaves will improve your soil structure and soil drainage. They will also increase the long-term fertility of your soil.

On the other hand, if the leaves are not well composted, they may cause a short-term reduction in available nitrogen. To compensate for this loss, till in a well-balanced organic fertilizer along with the leaf mulch. Most manure fertilizers will work for this purpose. I would add the fertilizer at a slightly higher rate than is recommended.

We have an 18- to 24-inch-wide strip of lawn between our sidewalk and street. We would like to remove the lawn and replace it with perennial plants. What would you suggest we plant?

You will want to pick a tough perennial that can take a lot of abuse. Over the course of the year, the plants will be stepped on and trampled by people and animals. The area may be used as a litter box by cats and dogs, and it may have salt thrown at it after winter storms.

One plant that will take much of that abuse is creeping lily turf (Liriope spicata). It is a relative of another ornamental plant that is simply called lily turf (Liriope muscari). However, it is significantly shorter and spreads by underground runners. It will form a dense, thick shaggy green carpet about 6-12 inches in height. It is thick enough to keep out most weeds and is somewhat drought tolerant.

Before planting, you will need to remove any existing grass and prepare the area for planting.

If you are planting the entire strip, you might consider putting in a few steppingstones for people.


1. Clean leaves and debris from ponds and resume feeding your fish when water temperatures remain steadily above 50 degrees.

2. If you have your soil tested now, you will have time to amend its composition before planting summer flowers and vegetables. Call the information line below to have a soil-test kit sent to your home.

Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator for the Baltimore office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site www.hgic. umd.edu.

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