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Home & Garden

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It’s easy and free to improve soil

The changing of the seasons also allows an opportunity to do a number of things that are important to an ongoing healthy garden. Improving the soil is always at the top of my to-do list.

As the beds become vacated, it’s the best time to add more organic matter, mainly because you have more room and don’t risk disturbing remaining plants.

Even when you start out with great soil, it’s amazing to see just how much better it looks after a few months of plant growth. The billions of microbes consuming plant debris and soil organisms are a natural fertilizer and soil-improvement factory all to themselves.

Yet, there is a finite amount of benefit they can add without new inputs from above.

In our gardens, we can recharge soil by adding shredded leaves, decomposed grass clippings and other organic matter.

Even decomposed wood chips, the kind that result from running trees and branches through the grinding machine you see tree services use, are an excellent source for mulching and for improving soil.

Every tree service that grinds up their trunks or branches ends up with truckloads of chips by the end of the day. If you see such a tree service in your neighborhood, it’s well worth the minute it takes to ask them if you can have their debris.

Another consideration is to rent a chipper and do it yourself.

You can disperse the chips by letting them land where they fly, and allowing the chips to act as mulch over the ground. Or collecting them into a container, where you can then store the chips for later use.

Both methods work great for me, yet I must admit that I love having a ready supply of mulch for all the times I need it throughout the year.

Shredded leaves work just as well, and in many ways are easier to work with. Simply collect as many leaves as you can and distribute them over the lawn or mowable surface. Then, take your mulching mower or bagging attachment and pass over them once or twice.

Don’t allow the layer to start out too thick, or it can bog down your mower. The shredded-leaf remains are perfect to rake into your beds, work into the soil or add to your compost pile.

Joe Lamp’l, host and executive producer of “Growing a Greener World” on PBS, is an author and a paid spokesman for the Mulch and Soil Council.