A gardener’s black gold will not make you a millionaire. This black gold is slightly different from Jed Clampett’s, but you will feel wealthy from your abundant garden that can help keep your family fed. The black gold that I am referring to is the compost you can create from your recycled yard waste.
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program’s seventh principle, recycle yard waste, encourages homeowners to compost yard waste. Recycling yard waste keeps the vital nutrients your plants require to grow and thrive within your landscape.
While growing up, my autumns were filled with chores, including the painstaking task of raking up thousands of leaves that fell within our yard. After collecting leaves into giant piles and after a few moments of playing in the giant piles, we would bag them up and take them to a giant landfill to be discarded. In retrospect, that was a mistake.
Every leaf, every blade of grass, each chipped twig was valuable to the landscape and we tossed it out. Rather than being tossed away, the discarded plant material held significant value to the landscape because it could have broken down, released nutrients back to the landscape, and built a healthy soil. This contribution of organic matter to the soil was sadly wasted.
In Florida, many new homes are built upon, the colloquially named, “Builder’s Sand,” which can have limited organic matter. Organic matter does wondrous things to our soil; it resides in the upper most portion of our soils and is about 1%-3% of Florida’s sandy soils.
That small portion of soil helps maintain pH, supply nutrients to plant material, maintain soil structure, provide energy to microorganisms, and remove pollutants. We are incredibly dependent on the upper portion of soil, which is a true powerhouse of plant growth.
Plants need food. To help provide the appropriate amount of nutrients for plant growth, different fertilizers in the forms of composted organic material or slow-release fertilizers are available. With homes built on builder’s sand, there is a limited amount of soil organic material available-nearly necessitating responsible and appropriate fertilizer applications.
A strategy to help reduce fertilizer needs in your landscape is to recycle your yard waste while providing nutrients to your growing plants and to help incorporate organic matter back into your soil. There are three ways you can begin recycling your yard waste: leave grass clippings in landscape, used pruned material in the landscape, and compost.
Most homeowners do well regarding leaving grass clippings in their landscape, but never bag up your clippings. As grass breaks down, it adds nutrients back into the soil. Make sure that if your grass ends up in the roadway, sidewalks, or storm drains, sweep or blow the clippings back into your landscape. Any clippings that end up in the roadways contribute to pollutants that hurt waterbodies.
If you are selectively pruning plants within your landscape, try chipping up the healthy material and using it for mulch or adding it to your compost bin.
Lastly, a strategy we can use is composting. Composting is a great way to incorporate nutrient rich, black gold back into your landscape or garden. A nice thing about composting is that nature does all the work for you. By collecting different green and brown material from your landscape and kitchen, you will start building a wonderful soil amendment. Your compost will be teaming with wholesome ingredients that will make your plants unbelievably happy.
Through recycling your yard waste to help build a healthier soil filled with organic matter, you can significantly reduce fertilizer requirements. Inappropriate use of fertilizers contributes to waterway pollution. Rather than discarding our yard waste, let us reintroduce it back into our landscape by to build a healthy soil and help protect the environment’s precious water resources.
To learn more about composting, reach out to UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County’s office to speak with a Master Gardener Volunteer at 955-2402 or email@example.com. This amazing, trained team of horticulture experts are willing to help homeowners make appropriate landscape decisions.
— Dr. Taylor Clem is the Environmental & Community Horticulture Extension Agent for UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352-955-2402.