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Fall leaf management and nuisance insects

By John Fulton

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[October 27, 2009]  Just when leaves were starting to look colorful, we were hit with the double whammy of wind and rain. With the weakened attachment of the leaf stems as leaf color changes, there are leaves on the ground everywhere. This brings up one of those age-old questions: "What do I do with all those leaves?" The simple answer is to give you three options: leave them (no pun intended), remove them or chop them up.

InsuranceIf you decide to let nature take its course, letting leaves lie brings benefits and some problems. Many of the benefits are associated with your labor, or lack of it. The major non-labor benefit is when leaves collect in flower beds and around shrubs to provide a mulch for those plants. Problems generally develop where deep piles of leaves may smother grass or harbor diseases, causing large dead areas to deal with next spring. Of course, if you are the only resident in a neighborhood who doesn't rake leaves, you may be talked about at many get-togethers this fall.

Removing leaves is generally done by raking or bagging with a mower attachment. This makes your lawn look neat, prevents problems for lawns and gives you a workout if you are manually raking. The main problems are the time, labor and disposal of the leaves when they are piled.

Chopping leaves means reducing the size. Benefits include less smothering, quicker breakdown and less labor. The main drawback comes with deep piles that still should be removed because of trouble in shredding and smothering.

One thing to consider is the type of leaves. There is a huge difference in oak leaves and silver maple leaves. It's difficult to have smothering problems with oak leaves, while silver maple leaves may smother with a very thin layer. These green leaves will tend to smother more than the dry, rigid types will. Add to this the very wet conditions of leaves and soils, and we will have to wait for things to dry out a little bit before being able to chop effectively.

What do you do with the leaves you've accumulated? There are several possibilities. Many municipalities, Lincoln included, prohibit burning for the most part. Besides the fire risk, the respiratory issues for affected people can be life-threatening. Raking leaves into the street, unless requested by the city for cleanup, usually results in clogging storm sewers. Options remaining include composting, using as a mulch, tilling into garden and bed areas, and hauling to the city landscape recycling dump. There may even be some private collection services that will take bagged or bulk leaves to a recycling center.

Partial composting, and the subsequent use as a mulch, is one of the best solutions. Simply construct an enclosure at least 2 feet cubed, place leaves in it, and cover the top with hardware cloth or wire laid on it and weighted down. The resulting mulch may be used next spring on flower beds, gardens, around trees and shrubs, or spread back on gardens or lawns.

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More information on recycling leaves can be found online at

One thing to consider is removing the leaves from around the foundation of the house. The decaying leaves provide a hiding place or food sources for nuisance pests such as ladybugs and millipedes. The removal from directly around the house may reduce the number of these insects making their way into your home.

Nuisance insects

The warm weather last week brought about problems with Asian ladybugs. We will continue to have the same kinds of problems each warm, sunny day throughout the fall. Add to the ladybugs, box elder beetles, millipedes and a few others, and it may seem like you are being invaded.

The ladybug population built up to feed on soybean aphids, among other food species, and now those food supplies are gone. What do the ladybugs do? They look for other food and try to capture warmth when they can.

If they become more than you can take, you can spray areas with an insecticide such as permethrin, bifenthrin or carbaryl. It will eventually thin them out; just don't expect the insects to die right away. Foundation treatments are always good in the fall to help prevent them from entering the home. Inside the house, the vacuum cleaner or aerosols for flying insects will help.

[By JOHN FULTON, University of Illinois Extension, Logan County]



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