Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

November 5, 2012

Plateau Gardening: Autumn leaves — don’t waste a true treasure

By C. Rae Hozer
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — Final notes on PVC trellis installation: The height of the PVC trellis plan described at the end of last week’s article is the sum of the upright sections plus about 1 inch for each tee and/or elbow connector per side. That is roughly 108 inches. The actual standing height of the trellis depends on how deep the bottom lengths of PVC are buried in the ground. The distance from the soil surface to the underside of the roof eves where the trellis will be installed is an important consideration. I made and put up two of these trellises, one in front of the house by a stacked-stone wall and another against the west side of my garage. Since the land falls away in front of the house, that roof overhang is farther from ground (134 inches soil-to-eves) than that by the garage (102 inches soil-to-eves). The garage site had minimal clearance and barely accommodated the trellis height with 6 inches of PVC buried at the base, so I modified the design using two 12-inch PVC pieces at the top of each side for an adjusted trellis height of about 102 inches (uprights: 18”+ 18”+ 18”+  18”+ 12”+  12”= 96” added to 5 tees and 1 elbow connector: 1”+ 1”+ 1”+  1”+ 1”+ 1”= 6”). Adding one more 18-inch PVC upright section and another tee per side extended the trellis by the stone wall to 127 inches. There was enough scrap PVC pipe left over to modify each trellis. The only additional cost was about $1 to purchase two more tee connectors. 

Use autumn leaves to enrich soil 

Air, water, organic material, small mineral particles, larger rock fragments, as well as empty voids around and between the solid components all combine to make up soil. Moisture and air move along inter-connected passageways created by the empty spaces. When there is good transportation for air and water, the soil is described as ‘having good drainage.’ Soils composed of very tiny, tightly packed particles (as in clay and silt) have fewer and smaller pore spaces to allow air and water movement. Soils like that are described as ‘having poor internal drainage.’ A layer of compacted soil that resists penetration by roots, moisture and air is known as ‘hardpan.’ Plants growing in dense, fine-textured or hard-packed soil do not perform as well as those in a more favorable sub-surface environment. Adding organic material improves soil texture and drainage. Plenty of organic content in soil also offers good habitat and food for earthworms. They eat decaying plant and animal matter creating tunnels through the soil and leaving castings behind. Worm castings add fertility. Earthworms make the root zone more plant-friendly. The area from the surface down to a depth of about 12 inches is ‘the root zone’ where feeder roots bring moisture and dissolved minerals into a plant. A ground covering of mulches like bark nuggets, chopped leaves, grass clippings or compost prevents surface erosion by wind and rain as well as adds organic matter to the soil.    

A free source of organic material is falling (like pennies from heaven) at this time of year –  autumn leaves. Unfortunately the value of fallen leaves isn’t recognized by some folks. Many homeowners can barely wait for leaves to settle before heading out to blow and bag spent foliage. Then they haul the leaf-filled bags away or pay someone else to cart them off. Worse yet, is the practice of raking leaves and burning them. Childhood memories of marshmallow roasts Mom used to entice her kids to rake leaves make the smell of smoke from a bonfire pleasant. However, now I know burning leaves is a waste of nature’s own soil booster and smoky air makes breathing tough for those with asthma and other allergies.

Plateau Gardening is written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region. UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (931-484-6743) has answers to horticulture questions, free publications and details on how to become a Master Gardener. Send email comments or yard and garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae,