Leave Them Be

Leave Them Be

Chokeberry and fallen Redbud leaves
The bright red autumn leaves of the Black Chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa 'Low-Scape Mound' show above the carpet of Redbud leaves that have fallen on the ground around it. Photo taken on October 31, zone 6b. ©2022, Elana Goren.

Leave the Leaves for an Enriching, Natural Mulch

So many people are in the habit of clearing out leaves, raking them up and putting them on the curb to be picked up. But this is such a missed opportunity to enrich and protect garden beds in winter and to keep the local eco-system intact. Leaves not only provide nutrients to the soil as they break down, but the also help keep moisture in and protect plant roots from the extremes of winter weather as wood mulch does. And it’s free!

There are other reasons to keep the leaves in place where they fall, or to use them as mulch for the winter. Leaves provide cover for over-wintering insects, many of them pollinators who will flutter and buzz around the garden next spring. And there are others residing in the leaf-cover who provide much-needed food for hungry birds looking to feed to their young once the weather is warmer and birds start nesting.

I have read in some places that leaves should be shredded before using them as mulch. This supposedly makes the leaf-mulch lighter and allows more air to circulate. While shredding does help make the leaves breakdown faster, I don’t see how it makes the mulch better and it does little to preserve the ecosystem. Insects that use the leaves for winter-cover and feed the birds or pollinate spring flowers get shredded with the leaves if that is done. Leaf-shredding is a big loss for the ecosystem and can add to pollution if done by a gas-powered mower. I personally don’t understand the need or desire to do that. If one walks in the forest in autumn, there will be a carpet of fallen leaves that are not shredded and are feeding the ecosystem there where both plants and animals thrive. The fallen leafs eventually curl up and shrink as they dry out on the forest floor, naturally becoming smaller and providing texture and air flow as they change over time. Nature takes care of all the needs of the forest and we would be wise to take a lesson from that.

Leaf ID for Fun

White Oak Leaf
White Oak, Quercus alba leaf
Sweet Birch Leaf
Sweet Birch, Betula lenta leaf
Sugar Maple Leaf
Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum leaf
Sassafras Leaf
Sassafras, Sassafras albidum leaf
Chestnut Oak Leaf
Chestnut Oak, Quercus montana leaf
Red Maple Leaf
Red Maple, Acer rubrum leaf

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