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When Autumn Leaves Fall

Compost, mulch or recycle — but not in plastic bags

As summer’s gardens die and trees begin de-leafing, it falls to you to figure out what to do with tons of vegetation.
    The best solutions: recycle, compost or mulch.

Recycle — But Not in Plastic
    Anne Arundel County residents recycling yard waste for curbside collection might as well give up their plastic bag habit this fall. Come the new year, the county’s ban on plastic bags for grass clippings, leaves, Christmas trees and other yard waste goes into effect.
    In place of plastic, you have two options. Use compostable paper bags, or put yard waste into reusable containers. Not, however, your yellow recycling containers. Use your own containers, clearly marked with an X.
    When using paper bags, protect them from rain, as we’ve learned from experience that a wet bag of leaves is not only heavy but also sure to break open.
    No change in Calvert County: You’ll still bring your yard waste to convenience centers for composting.
    Yard waste in plastic bags costs more to process and creates more litter. All but one area composting facility prohibits plastic bags.  Since 2015, Anne Arundel Department of Public Works has shipped yard waste in plastic bags 40 miles to a private company in Woodbine, which charges a $12 per ton premium.
    Annually, Anne Arundel County collects approximately 30,000 tons of yard waste as part of its curbside collection program.
    “Making this change not only reduces waste, it is the fiscally responsible way to manage county government,” said County Executive Steve Schuh.  “Expanding our yard waste processing options will decrease our operating expenses back to sustainable levels.”

Mulch
    Rake or blow fallen leaves under shrubs. Leaves are the perfect mulch. They provide essential plant nutrients upon decomposition, suffocate weeds because they can be piled higher and deeper than bark or wood mulches. They also do not compete with the roots of ornamentals for nutrients and are dependably available every fall. “Mother Nature,” says Bay Gardener Dr. Frank Gouin, “has been mulching her gardens with leaves for eons.”

Compost
    Fallen leaves are good as gold to composters.
    Add fall leaves to grass clippings and vegetable matter. Mow through the leaves to chop them up and hasten the composting process. They are rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium and lots of important trace elements.
    Compost that’s primarily leaves needs green matter for nitrogen. Here’s how to make your own, according to the Bay Gardener.
    Fill a five-gallon pail with a shovel full of garden soil, one-half cup dish detergent and a cup of urea or ammonium nitrate fertilizer; top off with water. Stir into a soupy mud. The detergent helps wet the leaves, and the nitrogen-containing fertilizer replaces the green matter in providing the nitrogen microorganisms need to digest the carbon in the leaves. The garden soil provides the necessary microorganisms, and the mud also helps wet the leaves.
    Wet the leaves thoroughly, working one layer of about a foot of leaves at a time. Also mist each layer thoroughly with a garden hose to wash the muddy water down.
      Check the bin weekly for moisture. Turn for exercise and aeration in late January or February.
    It takes about a bushel of leaves to make a gallon of ­compost.