Those fallen leaves are Mother Nature's mulch

Chopped up leaves break down more quickly and help improve the soil.

Courtesy of Wendy Wilber
Published: Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 3:02 p.m.

Q: There are so many leaves falling from my oak trees. Usually, I just bag them up and put them on the curb on trash pickup day. But this year, I would like to use them as mulch. I heard this was possible.

A: March is the month when live oaks, water oaks and laurel oaks drop their leaves.

You can rake the yard one day, and it will fill up with leaves the next. It is best to wait until the majority of the drop is over to collect the leaves.

But don't kick these leaves to the curb because they can be used as free mulch. Fallen leaves are like Mother Nature's mulch; you just need a few tips on how to use them.

To use the leaves as mulch in your landscape beds, it is best to chop up the leaves in some manner. Do this by raking the leaves in a line and mowing over them with lawn mower, or putting them through a shredding machine.

Chopped up leaves break down more quickly and help to improve the soil. Apply the leaves to the landscape at a thickness of 3-4 inches deep. If the mulch layer is too thin, weeds will grow through it. A mulch layer that is too thick will not allow water to move through it, and the soil beneath will dry out.

It takes about a year for the mulched leaves to break down, and by then it will be time to start raking again.

By using the leaves in your own landscape you are saving the yard-waste truck a trip, and improving your soil and the health of your plants. Remember, too, that the leaves you rake or blow into the street often end up in the storm drain and can cause the drains to clog and add unnecessary nutrients to our creeks and ultimately to our aquifer.

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Q: I have been thinking about adding an olive tree to my edible landscape. Will an olive tree do well here in North Central Florida?

A: We normally think of olives as a Mediterranean crop that is grown in Spain, Italy or California.

They prefer a climate that has temperatures between 50 and 120 degrees, and receives 200 to 400 hours of chilling (temperatures below 45 degrees) a year.

Olives will grow in soil that is well-drained and has a pH between 5 and 8.5, and they are drought-tolerant.

This is sounding pretty promising right? They don't stand too much humidity in the spring and summer, though, so that could be a fallback, but we do, sometimes, have dry springs and summers.

In fact, many folks are growing olives in their backyard, and some farmers in South Georgia are trying them as a commercial crop for the oil.

There are several nurseries in the North Central Florida area that sell olive trees in containers. The trees have a beautiful silver foliage, deeply furrowed bark and can reach 20 to 30 feet tall. They are evergreen and flower in the spring.

Trees can require a pollinator partner to ensure fruit set. Some of the varieties that are growing well in Florida are Arbequina, Manzanillo and Mission.

You will produce olives in a few years from a healthy tree growing in full sun. But you cannot eat olives fresh off the tree. They must either be pressed into oil or brined for table olives.

For more information about olive trees in Florida, visit the University of Florida/IFAS Extension website at

Wendy Wilber is an extension agent with UF/IFAS. Email her at

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