Oak Leaf Mulch

Ronkonkoma, NY(Zone 6b)

Hello all, I have many questions about oak leaf mulch. I just bought a house with about 15 oak trees in the yard and the yard hasn't been raked all last year, so I am shredding like mad and plan to use the shredded leaves as garden mulch this year. I have been reading whatever I can find on the topic, but have many questions if anyone has experience.

Here goes all at once: I hear that wood chip mulch is not good for the garden as the decomoposition process actually steals nitrogen from the soil. I assume this is becuase wood chips are a "brown" compost material. Will oak leaves have the same effect? My area is very badly infested with ticks, will my piles of shredded leaves and leaf mulch in the garden only supply more of a home for the ticks? I recently applied powdered lime to the garden soil to raise the pH, but hear that oak leaves are acidic. How much will this be a problem as the years go by if I keep using oak leaf mulch? Is this a good idea? Thanks!

Millbury, MA(Zone 5a)


I'm not sure about the ticks, but oak leaves are very definitely acidic. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't use them, but you'll have to add extra lime to compensate. There are some plants such as holly and rhododendron that like acid soil, so they'd probably benefit from oak leaf mulch. In a general garden area though, you'll probably want to aim for a more neutral soil.

Ronkonkoma, NY(Zone 6b)

Thanks McCool. I used to live in MA too, in the Berkshires

I took some soil samples before I started this year and submitted them to the local agricultural extension. They do a full nutrient analysis for 15 bucks! So I should know more about the soil soon. Your probably right, based on the moss I've seen around and the way the rhodos in the yard are doing I would say the soil is on the side of acid. Once I get my baseline data I will start an annual lime schedule. I guess I will see how this works out long term. I will post it and we can all chock it up to experience. Thanks again!

Southern, CT(Zone 6a)

Wormboy, I'm not an expert but I don't think leaves draw nitrogen like sawdust or wood. Again, you could compensate with extra nitrogen if you used sawdust.

I'm pretty sure ticks always ned a warm blooded host (humans, deer, dogs,etc.) and a leaf mulch won't harbor them.

The Soil & Compost forum is a great source of info on this and a great place to post a thread.


New Haven, CT(Zone 6a)

aack, wood chip mulch draws nitrogen?? why doesn't it say that on the bag?! i wish i'd found that out sooner... does adding compost compensate?
(i know, dave, Soil &Compost forum, but I just feel more comfortable here with the folks i already know and trust...) :)

Southern, CT(Zone 6a)

No problem Meg. My need for order is minimal! Bark chips aren't really a problem. I think sawdust is the biger concern. Most gardeners add too much nitrogen anyway.

Wormboy, I checked with my resident tick expert. Ticks can live in leaves but would want moist/wet leaves. I still don't think it particularly draws them but they do not need a living host. (Tick prevention literature doesn't state to avoid leave piles.)
Sorry for the misinformation.

Ronkonkoma, NY(Zone 6b)

Yes, the tick thing is sort of a side crusade for me. Just moved into the properly a few months ago and my wife heard from the neighbors that there have been a few cases of Lyme diesease on our street and that ticks are very bad in our area. To top it all off the previous owner hadn't raked a single leave all last year or prune any trees or shrubs over the last several years, so I inherited a nice mess to deal with. Anyway, to stick to the point, my quest is two fold, deal with the large quantity of leaves (shred/compost/mulch) I have now and will have yearly, and protect my family (including the dog) from the ticks. I had read on the CDC web site that preventive measures include keeping a tidy yard because the tics like a moist environment to live (such in the leaves under all the low lying brances through my entire yard). So I pruned all my low lying branches and am trying to get all the leaves up and shredded. Again, I won't use pesticides, my neighbor across the street has her whole yard spayed. My wife is a bit reactionary and wants to do the same, but that is just nonsense to me. Spray the whole yard with poisen that we and our dog will track into the house and have on our bodies, clothing, etc. Not to mention that it all ends up in the groundwater, kills beneficial soil microbes, etc. Anyway I'm rambling, but if anyone has organic ideas to get rid of them I am all ears. I plan to -plant lots of garlic plants around and really make the place un-tick-friendly

Southern, CT(Zone 6a)

Yes they are really bad here too(Lyme,CT being where they were discovered) I don,t think anyone can be totally safe. But the vast majority of people don't get it. Use the CDC's suggestions and if you ever get any symptoms, get to the Dr.'s office. Its very treatable. The horror stories about L D are all from people who were not treated.

Ronkonkoma, NY(Zone 6b)

Thanks Dave, I will keep an eye on it. Check out the CDC's website, they actually show you a yard plan to deter ticks, if your interested.

groveland, FL(Zone 9b)

wormboy! good to see you already went to the extention. a little on your leaf question:

as for the "browns" and greens". in biological terms, it's referring to the ratio of carbon-rich materials (the browns) with respect to the protein rich materials (the greens). to maximun productivity of a compost pile the ratio should be approx 30:1. here's some of ratios...first your leaves:

leaves 60:1
cow manure 25:1
wood chips/saw dust 250:1 to 500:1 (varies)
coffee grounds 25:1
veggie waste: 10:1
dry hay 40:1
grass cuttings 12:1
blood meal 3:1

just to name a few. when the c/n (carbon-nitrogen) ratios are greater than 30:1, microbial action tends to be slow. when the c/n ratio is lower than 30:1 the material may be smelly, water-logged and anaerobic or lacking oxyegen.

ps...meg you see the wood chip ratio!

This message was edited Mar 24, 2006 5:37 PM

Ronkonkoma, NY(Zone 6b)

Yah, its funny with the compost pile, I have been so careful to mix in my coffee grinds, fruits and veggies in with the shredded leaves and to keep turning it, but it isn't really cranking yet. I think I need to water it a little. The big shredded leaf pile next to it is so hot inside you can't keep your hand in there. So I just need a little fine tuning! Getting there!

groveland, FL(Zone 9b)

well..i have to say i was out in mine today....well NOT in it but AT it and we never use what's there for a few years...so i checked out this one area because i was hoping to use some of it this year and it's just soooooo perfect now ....but shoot i think that area must have taken at least 3 years. we use it not for our gardens but for planting trees..we mix it with the parent soil if you can call the clay i have soil!

i'm sure your garden will be great!

Oviedo, FL(Zone 9b)

hi, Wormboy!
Here on my hilltop in eastern MA I have lived the last 23 years with 12 oak trees and a variety of other hardwood species and one eastern white pine. Shredding is the key. the oak leaf is the hardest substance known to gardenkind. Unless you shred, they take forever to break down. What are you using to shred? We have a vac/mulch thing and use our lawnmower. I like the lawnmower for large areas. ours has a bag and you can then dump the leaves wherever pretty easily. I compost some, and mostly use the others for mulch in the wild rocky areas of our yard that can't be trimmed or mowed. Yes they are acidic, but in these areas it's not that important. They also fall later than maple and other species and I just leave the piles on certain of my garden bed areas as winter mulch and clean them out in the spring, {I started this today in fact} If you have difficulty making up the brown-to-green ratio, several of the garden supply catalogs offer a brown leaf compost starter that works pretty well. I don't have so much green in the spring and I have two very large barrels and one trash can sized one and I use the starter in the bigger barrels. I use the smallest barrel for the kitchen scrap leaf combo. I haven't put a leaf out into the trash {we have several leaf pickup days here} in 23 years, except for very small amounts that were full of junk or rocks or something.
Ticks are a problem. but cleanup will destroy their habitat and them too. You will have to be careful.
Good luck with your garden!

Ronkonkoma, NY(Zone 6b)

It sounds like we are on the same page. When I moved in a did a little net surfing to see what was out there for shredders, and I ended up going with a Troybilt vacshredder thingy, I think it's model CSV206, not positive. Anyway, it has been working great, it has something like a 20:1 reduction ration. Was working great until I sucked up a golf ball and it bent one of the flail knives. Since its less than a year old they have to fix it for free, so its at the doctors office now. Which is good because I really don't have time to continue my leaf crusade, gotta finish tilling and start planting! Talk to you all soon.

Post a Reply to this Thread

You must log in and subscribe to Dave's Garden to post in this thread.