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Beacon Senior News

Let your leaves become soil

Oct 01, 2020 03:20PM ● By Paige Slaughter

In spring, we watch leaf buds form on the bare branches of trees. Throughout the season, the tree pulls up water and nutrients—trace minerals—from deep down in the soil, through its roots, and delivers those nutrients to the leaves so that they can produce sugar sap. Through this exchange, a tree nourishes itself.

This is just a tiny snapshot of the miracle happening inside every tree. There’s also photosynthesis, which is when leaves catch the sun’s rays like solar panels, and transpiration, which is when the water evaporating off of the leaves helps the tree pull water up through its trunk. There’s also annual growth of new layers of wood and bark.

In a single tree, nature performs an orchestra of magic. But spring and summer don’t contain the whole show. 

Act two

Fall and winter bring the second act—when trees return all those nutrients to the ground, where they decay, transform and prepare to be taken up again to facilitate life.

Full of carbon, fallen leaves are food for the critters below ground. Earthworms and microbes rely on organic material like dead leaves for nourishment so they can do their part to create the nutrient-rich topsoil our garden plants thrive on.

Leaves help lighten heavy soils, enhancing their structure and creating space for life to thrive. Leaves also act like a warm sweater during winter, insulating bare ground and tender plants from the cold.

The more we can support a continuous, full-circle garden ecosystem, the more life we can facilitate in our gardens. Leaves and all organic matter (like grass clippings and plant stalks) play a central role in the decay cycle, setting the stage for vibrant new growth in spring. 

What to do with leaves

Leaves make fantastic mulch. Use them to mulch your garden beds or bare grounds in your yard.

You can also experiment with composting. Layer your leaves with a nitrogen source, like manure or bone meal. Create a ratio of five parts leaves (carbon) to one part nitrogen. Make a layered pile and keep it moist. If you turn the heap each month, you’ll have a pile of great compost come spring.

If you have no use for leaves or compost or just simply aren’t interested in the work, there are many great ways to gift your leaves to ensure they continue along in the cycle of life. 

Give them to a neighbor to use as mulch or to line their chicken coops. Try reaching out to a local farm or gardening group to see if you can make someone’s day.

Mesa and Montrose counties offer a variety of recycling (composting) programs.

Grand Junction and Palisade offer leaf pick-ups for residents within city limits. 

In Grand Junction, leaves are transported to the Mesa County Organic Materials Composting Facility to be turned into compost. Palisade’s program picks up leaves and takes them directly to local farmers and home gardeners who want to use leaves for mulch. 

Montrose citizens can drop off grass clippings and leaves at the Montrose City Public Works facility free of charge. These materials are sent to a compost facility and then into gardens.

Excited to go even further? Be an inspiration to others by accepting leaves into your garden. Together, we can exchange resources to build a garden ecosystem that mimics nature, feeds our soils and facilitates life. The tastier produce that follows is a bonus we’re happy to receive.

Leaf pickup starts this month

Grand Junction rake out dates can be found at or call 244-1575. You can also drop leaves off at Mesa County Compost Facility year-round.

Palisade rake out dates can be found at or by calling 464-5602

Montrose citizens can drop off grass clippings and leaves at the Montrose City Public Works facility, 1221 6450 Road. Call 240-1480 for details.

In Delta, call the public works department at 874-7903 for take out dates.

Read more Alive & Digging columns.