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Home Front: Don't Underestimate the Value of Compost

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Thinking about having your leaves hauled away this fall? Mike McGrath, who dispenses gardening advice on the nationally syndicated public radio show "You Bet Your Garden," thinks that's madness.

As trees grow they send down long roots to suck up nutrients, most of which are stored in leaves. When the leaves fall to the ground and decompose, their nutrients are available closer to the surface of the soil, feeding other plants.

Composted material is nature's most perfect fertilizer, McGrath says, and he hopes people will stop throwing away their leaves to make way for chemical garden food.

"My goal is to get [gardeners] to stop using Roundup and Miracle-Gro and get them to literally stop poisoning themselves," McGrath says.

Chemical fertilizers are nothing more than ingredients for homemade bombs, he says, and gardeners feeding them to their plants may as well be dosing their gardens with steroids. "Nobody feeds these forests. Nobody spread weed killer on the Great Plains," McGrath says. "The secret behind all this is compost."

McGrath will be on hand at the Virginia Garden Festival this month with Richard Nunnally, host of "Virginia Home Grown," a local gardening television program, and Michael Goatley Jr., associate professor and turfgrass specialist for Virginia Tech, to answer questions about "going green."

The festival is Sept. 16 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Call (804) 262-9887 for more information, or visit www.lewisginter.org. Festival admission and parking are free. HS

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