Options for leaf use and disposalQuestion: This time of the year, our yard gets covered with leaves. Will it hurt anything if we just let them lie?

Answer: Autumn leaves are truly a mixed blessing. Their colors, sounds and smells provide a grand finale to our gardening season. However, if you are overly blessed with leaves, here are a few management options.

• Let them lie. Leaves make a great mulch when allowed to collect around and between plants. But remember, it's best to never allow leaves to accumulate on lawns. They can smother grass and provide the perfect environment for turfgrass fungus diseases. Aesthetics are another issue. For many people, unattended leaves look untidy.

• Shred while mowing. If leaf accumulations are light, simply shredding them with the mower and leaving them on the lawn will not hurt the grass.

• Collect in the bagger while mowing. A mixture of grass and leaves are the perfect combination for starting a compost pile or simply apply the material in landscape beds as a mulch.

• Use them as a mulch. Leaves make a great mulch material. They help to conserve soil moisture during dry periods of the year and prevent soil erosion around plants during the winter months. They also help prevent weeds. To mulch with leaves, apply several thin layers up to a depth of 3-4 inches or shred the leaves before application. Shredded leaves will break down faster, providing rich organic material to surrounding plant roots.

• Compost leaves. Leaves are excellent materials for compost piles. Microbes necessary for the compost process are already present on the leaves which eliminates the need for commercial compost starters. Leaf compost can be used as a substitute for peat moss when planting or added as a soil amendment to existing landscape beds.

• Till into the garden. This is so quick and easy to do! Simply till the leaves into the garden. Shredding them first will make tilling easier and the leaves will decompose faster, especially leathery leaves like oak.

Under no circumstances should leaves be burned. Most gardeners who utilize leaves as a soil amendment refer to the rich, black humus they make as "black gold."

Question: We are afraid that our firewood may be infested with insects that will invade our house when we bring it indoors. We are wondering if we should spray it while it's still outside with something to kill any insects that may be present.

Answer: Homeowners should not make a practice of applying chemicals to firewood for insect control because of the possibility of harmful fumes being produced when the wood is burned. There is little that can be done to protect firewood from wood-boring insects and there are no practical controls for their larvae once they have entered the wood.

The following guidelines may be helpful in reducing firewood pests:

1. Cut wood in mid-to-late fall. This may make the wood less attractive to attack by borers which emerge in the spring.

2. Bring firewood indoors only as needed, at most a couple of days supply at a time. Storing firewood in the home for long periods speeds insect development inside the wood, which allows them to emerge inside the home.

3. Do not stack wood up against the house or garage. This can result in moisture or insect problems in the building. A minimum of three feet between the firewood and building should be maintained. This also allows better air circulation, which promotes more rapid and thorough drying of the wood. Stacking the wood off the ground whenever possible also will increase drying and reduce potential pest problems.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For answers to local gardening questions, contact Master Gardener Rachel Gana at 642-8723 or e-mail her at: baiter1@pacifier.com.

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