Improving Your Yard and Your City
By Recycling Yard Wastes
By Bob Randall
In our house, we only put out the
trash every 6-8 weeks! We have
curbside recycling and every three
months take glass, food cartons and
plastic bags to places that recycle
them. But a main reason we donít use
the trash service much is that we
recycle all of our yard wastes and
kitchen food wastes.
Home and business owners produce a
lot of plant wastes and kitchen
scraps that can more easily be
recycled on most lots than they can
in a landfill. It is fairly easy to
recycle lawn clippings, leaves,
branches, logs, Christmas trees,
kitchen scraps, and coffee grounds.
Even though the City of Houston
collects yard debris, you wonít need
to buy bags, bag leaves, or pay for
someone to bag them if you compost
your leaves, yard clippings along
with your kitchen waste.
Recycled yard and kitchen wastes
improve the clay soil dramatically
natureís way within a few years.
Your plants will grow better with
less water because the clay
particles will glue together into
topsoil thus encouraging rain and
irrigation to soak in and providing
oxygen for root health. The surface
organic matter will insulate the
soil from surface heat, and
organisms that decompose the organic
matter will share their remains and
wastes with the
Such organic wastes are expensive if
purchased as compost or mulches so
throwing them out is really extravagant.
Most people cut their lawn too often
at too short a height. Mowing is a
form of plant surgery so it damages
the grass blades. For a healthy
lawn, only mow when it is becoming
unsightly and never mow on a
schedule. In hot weather avoid
mowing before late afternoon.
If you mow at 3 inches, you need to
cut off only 1.5 inches every two
weeks or in dry weatherólonger so as
to not damage the grass. Authorities
nationwide believe that this height
and schedule are best for lawns.
This taller lawn will be much
greener, healthier, need much less
water, require many fewer mowings,
create less noise and air pollution
and be less work and cost. For
obvious reasons, many lawn services
dislike such infrequent visits, and
may have difficulty mowing on an
as-needed basis. But if you require
it, some will do this.
If you are in the habit of bagging
clippings, longer grass will make
the bagging more difficult.
However, if you donít bag the
clippings and just mulch the
clippings where they fall, they will
decompose quickly and return the
nutrients to the lawn where they are
Falling leaves and branches are
natureís way of providing
water-conserving soil-cooling mulch
under the tree and calories for the
microbes that provide nitrogen and
other nutrients to the tree roots.
Leaf mold is the single best and
most expensive soil amendment you
can buy in quantity! Thus if at all
possible, let leaves and small
branches stay where they fall.
If that isnít possible then mow the
leaves and small branches to break
them up and let them rot in place.
If you must remove them, put them a
few inches thick under other trees
or shrubs. Cut the bigger branches
and logs with saw, loppers, machete
or shears until everything is in
small flat pieces or is long and
straight. Tuck the small pieces
discretely under shrubs in
out-of-the-way places to rot. Use
straight logs as edgings on garden
paths or for beds and hide big logs
under low lying shrubs. Christmas
trees get the same treatment.
Most garden weeds should be used the
same way as mulch under shrubs and
trees. They can also be put in a
compost pile as long as they arenít
large or have long-lived roots like
nutgrass and Bermuda grass.
If you would like to learn how to
build your own compost bin, consider
the Urban Harvest class on November
12th - Hands On: Backyard Composting
& Maintaining Healthy Soil at the
Westbury Community Garden.
Bob Randall, Ph.D. retired in 2008
as Executive Director of Urban
Harvest and is the author of Year
Round Vege-tables, Fruits and
Flowers for Metro-Houston. Contact
Learn about gardening classes and