Begin the fall battle with leaves for beautiful yards

Photo by Joseph Gonzalez

October garden projects include:

Plant: Trees, shrubs, daffodils, perennials, cool season annuals like pansies and violas. Divide and replant spring blooming perennials. Mid-October is a good time to divide hostas, pot herbs and take indoors. Plant larkspur and poppy seeds.

Lawn care: Fertilize established fescue lawns with a slow-release balanced fertilizer. Can still start or over-seed fescue lawn.

Fertilize: Too late to fertilize.

Other: Dig up and store tender bulbs like caladiums. Shred fallen leaves to use for mulch or to compost. Clean and oil garden tools before storing for winter. Continue to water on weeks with less than 1 inch of rain. Continue to monitor for insect and fungal diseases and treat as needed. Harvest and dry herbs for winter use.

October is one of my favorite months of the year in Bartlett. The weather has begun to cool off, and the plants and flowers revitalize and put forth a new flush of flowers. Gardeners put out fall displays and plant pansies for winter color.

In late afternoons on cool days, just like a cat, I look for a sunny spot outside to sit and soak up the warmth of the sun. Cool nights invite us out to our patios to gather with friends around a fire pit to enjoy the warmth, sounds and sight of a fire. It doesn’t get any better than this!

October is also a time to begin battle with the leaves. There are many options for managing this annual ritual. While we may be tempted to “leave the leaves” until all have fallen so we only need to clean them up one time, you should not do so if you enjoy having a lush lawn. A heavy layer of leaves on a lawn will result in dead patches and will promote disease.

The instinct to “leave the leaves,” however, is a good one, when managed properly. Even if you are a neat freak and can’t stand to see a leaf on the lawn, you have good options.

If you don’t mind mowing, set your mower on the mulch setting and go over your lawn twice to chop the leaves into small pieces and leave them in the lawn as a natural fertilizer. Research has shown that lawns actually benefit from a thin layer of leaves. Unless the layer is very thick, chopped leaves don’t cause thatch. University researchers have compared lawns in which leaves were mowed in vs. raked off, and the leaves-on lawns came out healthier and better performing.

In areas where leaves should be removed or thinned, think about recycling them on site. Gather your leaves and chop them by running over them with the lawn mower or use a weed trimmer like an immersion blender in a garbage can loosely filled with leaves. The chopped leaves make an attractive mulch for your garden beds. The chopped leaves also break down faster than whole leaves, but both will provide nutrition for your plants, enrich the soul and encourage worms that will aerate your soil and work the nutrients into your plants root zone. Leaves can be piled up around ornamental trees, shrubs and perennials to no ill effect.

Leaf litter is important for your garden ecology for other reasons. The vast majority of butterflies and moths overwinter in the landscape as an egg, caterpillar, chrysalis or adult. In all but the warmest climates, these butterflies use leaf litter for winter cover. Beyond butterflies, native bumblebees also rely on leaf litter for protection. At the end of summer, mated queen bumblebees burrow only an inch or two into the earth to hibernate for winter. An extra thick layer of leaves is welcome protection from the elements. There are so many animals that live in leaves: Spiders, snails, worms, beetles, millipedes, mites and more. They support the chipmunks, turtles, birds and amphibians that rely on these insects for food.

It’s easy to see how important leaves really are to sustaining the natural web of life.

If you are hesitant to leave the leaves in your lawn, you can also compost your leaves simply by piling them up in a corner of your yard and letting Mother Nature do the work for you. The leaves in your compost pile need not be shredded first. They will decompose faster if you occasionally turn the pile. In time you will be rewarded with rich compost for your patience.

If you want to dispose of your leaves, Bartlett Public Works provides many options:

  • Yard waste carts: The city offers a 95-gallon yard waste cart for purchase to its residents for $50. This cart is used for mulchable materials only such as leaves, sticks, and small trimmings and other organic yard waste. Unfortunately, these carts cannot be used for grass clippings because there are no mulch contractors that will accept grass clippings. Once purchased, the cart is the property of the resident. A maximum of three yard waste carts per residence is allowed. The City then takes these material to a recycling center to be turned into mulch and compost.
  • Bagging: You can bag your leaves and place them at the curb for collection on your scheduled pickup day. Leaf bags should weigh no more than 50 pounds each. At no time are leaf bags to be placed in the roadway. Leaf bags should not be placed under low-hanging power, cable or phone lines, in drainage ditches, around fire hydrants, next to utility poles or their support cables, cable or phone boxes, power transformers or mailboxes.
  • Loose-leaf collection: From Nov. 1 through March 31 only loose leaves will be collected by the city’s leaf vacuum trucks. During this time residents may place their loose leaves at the curb or shoulder of the roadway in a dome-shaped pile or windrow. The leaf pile or windrow should be loose leaves only and be free of all other debris such as limbs, sticks or twigs.

Be sure to keep leaves out of the road as they impede drainage and clog storm sewers that can lead to flooding. When cleaning up your leaves consider cleaning them out of the street as well and clean up any debris that has gathered on storm sewer grates.

Not everything in October is focused on leaves. Don’t miss the Memphis Horticultural Society’s Native Plant Conference October 25-28. A rich slate of national and local presenters share insights into all things native, covering diverse topics that include landscaping with natives, the relationships between native plants and wildlife, local native plant conservation initiatives, outstanding native plant selections for the landscape and more. Visit

It is not too late to see the scarecrows at Lichterman Nature Center if you have not yet visited. For these and all other local horticultural events, visit the Memphis Area Master Gardeners website and click on their calendar of events at