Beauty in decay
Death and decay doesn’t sound like a lovely subject to talk about, but in the garden it’s a gardener’s delight. Really.
No, I am not going all macabre on you. I am referring to leaf decomposition. All those lovely falling leaves are very useful in the garden. Running over the leaves with a lawn mower will decompose the leaves faster. A touch of green leaves wouldn’t hurt. The extra nitrogen in those green leaves help to break down the leaves faster.
Speaking of leaves…it’s true that oak leaves take longer to break down. And it’s not just a gardener’s observation. The JHC Cornelissen 1996 study showed that various plant species’ leaves breakdown differently.
Cornelissen discovered that woody climbers’ leaves broke down the fastest, followed by flowering herbs, deciduous shrubs, deciduous trees, grasses and deciduous subshrubs. The slowest to decompose? Evergreens.
Plant family was also related to the speed of leaf decomposition. From fastest to slowest decomposition were Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle Family), Asteraceae (Composite Family), Salicaceae (Willow Family), Fabaceae (Bean Family), Rosaceae (Rose Family), Betulaceae (Birch Family), Poaceae (Grass Family), Pinacaceae (Pine Family), Ericaceae (Blueberry Family), and Fagaceae (Oak Family.)
Now, doesn’t death and decay sound fascinating?
Cornelissen JHC. An experimental comparison of leaf decomposition rates in a wide range of temperate plant species and types. J Ecol. 1996;84:573–582. doi: 10.2307/2261479.