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Drowning in leaves? Bag or compost them

Q: Earlier this year we moved into our new home and have really enjoyed the two ash trees we’ve got in the back yard. Now that they have finished dropping their leaves the lawn is covered and I’m not sure what to do with all these leaves!! Suggestions? – N.H., Albuquerque

Tracey FitzgibbonA: There are several things you can do with the multitude of leaves your ash trees have dropped.

First would be rake them up and fill the large (usually) black garbage bags and make a collection of the bags. Here in the Metro area the city offers “Green Waste” collection days periodically and they’ll pick up the bagged leaves. You’re in luck, too! On the city’s website it’s announced the latest collection dates are Dec. 3-14. That should give you two pickup dates with which to get the properly collected leaves removed.

There are rules. The bagged green waste needs be placed curbside on your regular trash collection day. The green waste collections need to be placed 5 feet away from the trash bins so that service for “regular trash” happens unimpeded. Then the bags should be sound and weigh no more than 40 pounds each.

If you have twigs, sticks, stems and branches to “donate,” they need be cut to a length of no more than 4 feet and bundled securely, again weighing no more than 40 pounds. Please don’t try to sneak in anything that didn’t make oxygen at one point in its life like rocks, gravel or construction leftovers. This service is a very good thing so don’t mess it up.

Another option would be to mow the leaves. Take a walk through the leaves and remove any larger sticks or twigs, pitching them out of the way. Then literally mow over the leaves. If you have a clippings attachment you can collect the mowed leaves making it easier to bag (remember the 40-pound rule) or use as a mulch throughout your landscaping.

Mowed leaves make a great product for pathways and aisle divisions in your gardens! Having been minced, so to speak, the leaves would decompose easier when incorporated into a compost heap, too. If you’ve never made compost we do have a group of dedicated composters here in the Metro area that can teach you the ins & outs of making your own Black Gold to re-feed the Earth!

Then, too, I wouldn’t suggest leaving the leaves to sit on the lawn. All sorts of molds and mildews can grow and cause a whole host of trouble down the line, so get out there and tidy up! Getting rid of a yard full of leaves isn’t difficult, it’s just a bit of concerted effort on your part!

Q: You say that oleander is poisonous. Really? H.O., Albuquerque

A: You betcha! EVERY part of an oleander is to be considered toxic. The roots, stems, twigs, leaves and blossoms, if eaten, can cause major health issues. Even the smoke if you happen to burn oleander is considered a toxin.

So I’d never bring one into my home and hope that if you do use it to decorate with you are most vigilant about tidying up after it. As an ornamental shrub it does have its place in the world but I hope you play it safe and never use it indoors as decoration.

Here’s to a Happy Holiday season Diggin’ In!

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103, or to