Every autumn an abundance of leaves from various species of shade trees [e.g., oak (Quercus sp.), maple (Acer sp.)] are collected from urban landscapes. In 1988, shade tree leaves were banned from landfills and combustion facilities in New Jersey because it was an unsustainable practice. Composting and mulching leaves and using them as a resource was proposed. The purpose of this review is to summarize studies of mulching and amending soils with shade tree leaves and their potential to benefit agricultural production. Research sponsored by New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station on soils and crops found that land application of shade tree leaves was beneficial for building soil organic matter content, protecting against erosion, and controlling weeds when used as a mulch. In general, crop yields and quality were improved with leaf mulch. Collected shade tree leaves on average have a relatively high carbon-to-nitrogen (N) ratio and the potential to cause a temporary deficiency of soil N availability. However, with good agronomic practices and well-timed N fertilization, crops perform well after shade tree leaves have been applied without increasing the recommended N fertilizer application rate.
The pre-sidedress soil nitrate test (PSNT) was evaluated in 27 fields in New Jersey, 6 in Connecticut, 5 in Delaware, and 2 on Long Island in New York for its ability to predict whether sidedress N is needed to grow fall cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata) as a double crop. Soil NO3-N concentrations measured on 20 field sites on the day of transplanting and 14 days after transplanting indicated that NO3-N concentrations over this time period increased, and that residues from the previous crop were not causing immobilization of soil mineral N. The relationship between soil NO3-N concentration measured 14 days after transplanting and relative yield of marketable cabbage heads was examined using Cate-Nelson analysis to define the PSNT critical level. Soil NO3-N concentrations ≥24 mg·kg-1 were associated with relative yields >92%. The success rate for the PSNT critical concentration was 84% for predicting whether sidedress N was needed. Soil NO3-N concentrations below the PSNT critical level are useful for inversely adjusting sidedress N fertilizer recommendations. The PSNT can reliably determine whether fall cabbage needs sidedress N fertilizer and the practice of soil NO3-N testing may be extendable to other cole crops with similar N requirements.