Great soil is easy to recognize. It is dark and loose, almost fluffy in texture with a rich earthy smell. Soil can be improved the lazy way: with mulch. At this time of year, the best mulch to use is leaves. Do not use them whole. They can compact and form a water barrier. Run over the leaves with your lawn mower to break them into smaller bits. This will allow them to decay more quickly. You can turn them into the soil or you can put a layer on top of the soil and let the earthworms work the decaying mulch down into the soil and aerating the original, hard-packed soil as they tunnel. After several years of applying mulch it composts and improves the soil as much as 4-6” down. Compost is a wonderful all-purpose material. You can use it for top-dressing your plants or even as mulch. It is an excellent soil conditioner, provides nutrients in small amounts, and it looks great, also. It helps the soil hold nutrients and injects a healthy bunch of beneficial microorganisms. These continue to work to make the existing soil better for the plants.
If you cannot use your leaves now, bag them for use next spring in your compost pile or as mulch. It saves our landfills and saves you money.
BJ Thornhill, A&M Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service