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Natural gardening ideas can lead to colorful fall ideas

Nov. 18, 2004

By LYNN WOODWARD, coordinator of campus advocacy

It's fall, and the leaves around here are getting close to turning colors and falling to the ground. Among my favorites are the brilliant yellow ginkgos at Armstrong Browning Library, Burleson Quadrangle, Rena Marrs-McLean Gymnasium, and Sid Richardson Science Building; the yellow Texas ashes at the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center, the vivid red oak at Rogers M. and Louise Rogers Computer Science Building Engineering, the mixed autumnal hues of the Chinese pistachios at Cashion Academic Center and in the Mayborn Museum complex parking lot, not to mention the sweet gum trees in the Morrison Constitution Hall courtyard. Now despite the arduous work involved in herding, collecting and depositing these leaves, I consider the whole process a labor of love.

Indeed, it is a labor of love resulting in the ultimate enhancement of the soil and plants of the Baylor campus.

Since fall 2001, the grounds department has been committed to composting the bulk of these leaves in giant piles at their shop on River Street. The decomposing plant material has thus been regularly incorporated into the flower beds, starting in spring 2002, as those beds underwent their twice-a-year color change .

But why spade old, rotting leaves down into the soil, one asks?

Because the innumerable benefits derived from their addition far outweighs the fuel and manpower costs of hauling them in sacks to the landfill.

My overarching goal for the past year on this beloved campus of ours has been to improve the health of the soil in the flower beds. One may have heard on various organic gardening radio talk shows the new battle cry for gardening the natural way: "Healthy soil builds healthy plants."

Incorporating compost into the soil improves microbial and earthworm activity, thereby providing many new efficient absorption by the plants' roots.

If not convinced yet, consider that as one spades or tills this magical material into the soil, not only do a variety of needed nutrients become available to the plants, but also moisture retention and the soil's friability and tilth (terms of soil texture) are steadily improved.

Now, readers, by now on the very edge of your seats, here's the exciting ending to this treatise. For the first time since the Baylor composting program began, facilities services is offering to the Baylor family a "come-and-get-it compost program." As coordinator of campus advocacy, I urge everyone to bring sacks and buckets and carry away these one-year-old leaves to enrich one's own flower beds, shrubs, trees and even potted plants.

The composting site is south of the Ferrell Center, off LaSalle Avenue. Turn onto River Street, pass through the chain link gates, and drive straight ahead to the main leaf pile. Please call ahead to 710-7566 for further information, and to help me to monitor the amount of interest in our composting program. It should be noted as well that one's own spading fork, pitchfork or shovel should be brought for the activity. Gloves also should be worn, to protect the hands against errant broken glass or shreds of aluminum cans. Here I gently insert the following advice: use campus trashcans regularly and often.

Final thoughts for the month of November: now is definitely the time to be adding compost to beds, taking out summer annuals, cutting back begonias and blanketing them with compost for a possible resurrection next spring, digging dinner plate-sized holes about 4" deep and depositing various bulbs that suit your fancy, adding more compost and planting pansies, ornamental kale and maybe even the old-fashioned annual stock, if one can find it.

In the main, just enjoy being out in the cool crisp air, exercising the muscles, and creating beauty. Until next month, happy gardening!