Issue: October 21, 1996

Rototill old leaves into the garden


Is it OK to rototil fallen leaves and old vegetable plants into the garden rather than building a compost pile? I've done it before, but some years the leaves and old plant stems are still there in the spring.


In general, yes. However, there are some warnings. In particular, if any of your garden plants had fungal or bacterial diseases, remove them from the garden. Turning them into the soil almost guarantees disease problems next year. Most gardeners will remove and dispose of diseased garden plants. That is the safest way to deal with them. Tree diseases are not usually a problem for the garden plants, so the leaves from the trees should not be a problem.

Even if you remove diseased plants from the garden, be sure to rotate your crops the next year. This is good advice even if you didn't have diseased plants. Crop rotation helps prevent the build-up of disease organisms in the soil. Crop rotation means that you move the crop you grew in one spot to another place the next year.

The reason that the material turned into the garden doesn't decompose over the winter is probably due to the fact that the soil was too dry that winter, or the plant debris was too woody. In the spring when you rototil the garden, rake out any uncomposted material and finish composting in a compost pile, or use it as mulch between the rows in the garden. Adding manure as you turn the debris under in the fall and making sure the soil is moistened in dry winters will maximize the in-situ composting.

African violet leaf cuttings


A friend gave me a leaf from one of her beautiful African violets and told me how to grow new plants from it. Is this a good time?


Yes, leaf-petiole cuttings from African violets can be started almost anytime. It is important to keep them in a well- lighted room but not in direct sunlight. The room should be comfortably warm. If it is warm enough for you to be comfortable, the cutting should root readily.

For those who don't know how to start an African violet from a leaf-petiole cutting, it is very easy. The simplest method is to place the petiole (stem) portion into a small glass of water with the leaf blade remaining in the air. In a few weeks roots will have developed and a few weeks after that small plantlets will appear at the end of the petiole. Leaves will form underwater and when the plantlets have several leaves about one- fourth-inch across or more, the little plants may be separated and placed in pots in good African violet potting soil. It would be wise to place plastic bags over these pots for a while so that our dry air doesn't kill them before they can develop strong root systems in the pots. Gradually punch holes in the bag after a couple of weeks, each week adding more holes until the plants are adapted to the drier air. Of course, while the pots are in the plastic bags, keep them in a brightly lit location, but don't allow them to be in direct sunlight or the heat will kill your little plants.

For those who want a simpler way to start the plants, just place the petiole of the leaf into moist potting soil in a pot. Keep the potting soil moist and perhaps start with the pot and leaf in a plastic bag. As the little plants develop, begin punching holes in the bag as described above. In a few months you will have a nice new African violet.

Before you start a new plant, be sure to check the label that came with the plant to see if it is patented. If it is patented, it is illegal to start new plants until the patent expires.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!