All of those fallen leaves in your yard might be the key factor in turning your soil into that black-gold we all strive for. So don’t be so quick to clean them up and send them out to the curb with the garbage cans just yet.
All summer long, trees soak up nutrients and minerals from the soil and push that nutrition into the leaves. In the fall, when the tree drops its leaves, all those nutrients and minerals are still there. Additionally, fall leaves dry up fast because the tree has cut off their water and nutrient supply.
If all your trees are healthy, pile those leaves into your composter and start making black gold soil for your garden beds.
So why do these things matter? Adding fallen leaves to your compost, or even straight into your garden soil, can have enormous benefits for your compost process or soil.
There’s a double bonus of adding fall leaves to your compost bin: all those extra nutrients are going back into the soil, and as leaves break down, they can improve the structure of your soil, helping loosen it up and give it that wonderful humusy texture.
The other bonus of fallen leaves: they count as brown matter for your compost. It can be a challenge to get the brown vs. green matter ratio right in compost. All those dead leaves in the fall can help you balance out a summer of adding green, green, green to your compost. It should balance it out, so your compost starts to break down correctly.
Beware of Maple Anthracnose: Do Not Compost The Leaves
2020 has been an awful year for anthracnose in the Quad Cities Metro Area. We’ve had 60-foot tall maples that had the fungus to the top of the tree. So, if you’ve got a maple tree in your yard, you’ll want to have a good hard look at its leaves before you start putting them in the compost. The spores can survive the winter and will infect your trees again next year, so they need to be destroyed. The best way to do this is to remove them from your yard. Pack them up in garbage bags and send them out with the trash.
How to Tell if Your Tree Has Maple Anthracnose
A few different pathogens can cause anthracnose, and each one looks a little bit different. In general, it appears as irregular shaped spots, streaks, or blotches along the veins, central rib, and margins of the tree’s leaves.
- Norway maples usually get narrow, dark purple streaks along the veins.
- Sugar maples typically have large brown blotches along the veins.
- Japanese maples usually get papery spots with a lighter brown color along the veins and edges of leaves.
Often in the spring, it will cause the tree to lose all of its leaves shortly after they first come out. Some trees fully recover and produce a new set of healthy leaves. But, a nasty infection, like we’ve seen on a few trees this year, can cause more permanent damage. Young trees and environmentally stressed trees are more likely to incur permanent damage than older, established trees. If the disease spread is really bad, you may need to remove affected shoots and limbs or possibly treat them with chemicals. The best prevention is to make sure your tree is healthy, so give it a good deep watering this fall.
Anthracnose can overwinter in leaf tissue from the trees, and then in the spring, it creates spores and is spread by the wind and splashing raindrops. If you have anthracnose on your maple, do not compost the leaves.
If your infected maple has dropped its leaves all over your yard already, you may not want to compost any of your leaves this year. But, keep an eye out next year, and if all your trees are healthy, pile those leaves into your composter and start making black gold soil for your garden beds.
The Univerisity of Illinois extension office has a little more detailed information on Anthracnose diseases if you need it.