Winter predictors and fall leaf management
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[October 12, 2011]
Winter predictors --
We've all heard about the woolly bear caterpillar as a winter
severity predictor, and with as many different interpretations of
the woolly bear as there are, somebody is always right. One version
says the larger the middle (orange segment), the milder the winter.
Of course, you have to have a banded woolly bear to have the
different colors. Another one says if they are white, this means a
lot of snow. All black means a cold winter. In reality, there are
several species, and the younger ones are usually white or
light-colored, and they turn dark as they age.
Other predictors of a tough or cold winter have included
plentiful berries and nuts, very bushy squirrel tails, tough
apple skins, high ant hills in July, and more. I can usually
look at the propane or natural gas price and predict things just
as well. When gas prices are high, we're going to use a lot more
Anyway, here goes with something a little more useful.
Fall leaf management
With a little bit of wind, or a lot of wind this past
weekend, the leaves have begun dropping in large numbers. 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.
If 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 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 also be talked about at many social functions
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 with 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. Many green leaves
were blown down with the high winds. These green leaves will
tend to smother more than the dry, rigid types will.
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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 flower bed areas, and hauling to the city landscape
recycling dump. There may even be some private collection services
that will take bagged 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.
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.
University of Illinois Extension]