How to compost oak leaves, protect your lawn
What to do this week: Clean and store remaining stakes, garden furniture, and tools. Finish planting hardy bulbs, as they cannot be stored over the winter. Resist pruning shrubs until it gets colder so you don’t stimulate new growth when they should be going dormant. Don’t compost plants with weed seeds. Mulch beds with ground bark, wood, or leaves.
Q. I have an issue with the Oct. 28 column on composting leaves (“Ask the Gardener: Advice on bulbs, fertilizer, and composting’’). Oak leaves, the bane of my existence, take years to break down and are very acidic. I once ground up some and put them in the shrubbery. The acid leached out and killed much of my front lawn. I would gladly compost the maple leaves, but there is no way to sort them out. Is there a way to safely compost those oak leaves? I am 80, and don’t have decades to wait.
A. Some oaks shed their leaves later than other trees, so rake the others up early and keep those in a separate pile if you want them to compost faster. Shredding with a mower also will speed decomposition. Lisa Becker of the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Habitat Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary in Belmont uses an electric blower/vacuum/mulcher. The pulverized leaves can be composted or spread directly around trees and shrubs as nutritious mulch without worrying about weed seeds or smothering lawns. Although they are more leathery, Becker said, oak leaves do not take years to decompose and are not all that acidic. If you have lots of oaks, you probably should lime your lawn each fall. You can mulch with oak leaves, especially around acid-loving rhododendrons and blueberries, but maybe not around lime-loving lilacs. Even if you think they are a pain, lots of oaks means lots of birds. Ever since traders introduced an Asian fungus that wiped out billions of American chestnuts a century ago, the noble oaks have filled in as a foundation of the forest food chain. They deserve our care and patience.