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Autumn leaves are a bonus to the smart gardener

Before long, the trees will begin to shed their leaves. The homeowner surrounded on three sides by his neighbors' maples may not consider his lot a happy one.

Thus, he gets going. He rakes, collects, and disposes of the leaves. But the next morning, if there has been any wind at all, more leaves will cover his lawn and driveway. Maybe they blew in from the yard of a tree owner too busy to rake, or the one who waits till each tree is bare before he clears his yard.

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There is a big plus side to all those leaves. They can go on his compost or humus pile and go on helping his garden for years ahead. Or he may decide to dig long shallow trenches in his vegetable garden, dump in the leaves, and cover them up with the earth. Eventually, these leaves will become humus and improve the moisture-holding capacity of the soil.

One foxy raker figured: "What the wind brings, the wind can take." He piled the leaves on his south boundary just before dark. "By morning, with the right wind, most of the leaves will be somewhere else," he reasoned.

He's making a mistake. Rather, he can make good use of the leaves -- and they don't cost him anything except a little time with a rake.

And don't forget the pine needles. The gardener with some loblollies or white pines can anticipate a real windfall. Soon after the two-year-old needles turn gold, they start drifting silently down, forming a light springy carpet on the ground below.

There is no disposal problem. Quite the reverse, will there be enough?

Pine needles are the perfect mulch for strawberies and perennials, evergreens and vegetables. They are durable and decorative and remain where placed.

A two-inch layer of fresh pine needles, spread along the drip line between the foundation and chrysanthemums or other hardy perennials, holds the soil and prevents mud from splashing against the brick and siding of the house during heavy rains.

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As a much, pine needles are most useful where the gutters have been removed so the yews and foundation perennials will not be deprived of rainwater.

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