Skip the rake and leave the leaves for a healthier, greener yard

fallen leaves
CC BY 2.0 Oregon DOT

Nature’s autumn bounty of fallen leaves isn’t usually a problem for lawns and gardens, and mulching the ground with them actually helps to feed the soil for a healthier yard.

If you grew up in a neighborhood with lots of trees, chances are you had to put in plenty of hours each fall raking them all together, bagging them up, and then sending them off somewhere, most likely to the landfill. And you were probably told that the reason for this was not only so that the yard would look ‘tidier’ but also so that the leaves wouldn’t kill the grass. This myth has probably sold more rakes and bags than anything else, and while raking may have enriched the pockets of neighborhood kids (assuming you got paid to rake leaves), the practice actually removes important nutrients from the yard, which homeowners then usually repurchase, in another format, in a bag or jug of fertilizer from the local garden center.

Well, we’re older and hopefully wiser now, so the idea of removing this important annual input to our local soil biology, and sending it elsewhere, likely to the landfill to be buried instead, doesn’t make nearly as much sense now as it might have back before we knew better. And while it is at least partially true that excessive amounts of fallen leaves can smother areas of a lawn when they’re left in thick piles all winter, leaving the leaves on the ground as mulch can actually be an effective method of building soil and supporting a healthy yard.

Fallen leaves, as an additional physical layer of organic materials above ground, provide food, shelter, and nesting or bedding materials to a variety of wildlife, as well as overwintering protection for a number of insects, all of which work together to contribute to a healthy yard. The soil itself is also a beneficiary of this autumnal gift of fallen leaves, as the leaves are essentially composted over time into nutrients that feed both the next year’s ‘crop’ of grass, but which also feed a vast number of microbes in the soil, which are actually the most important ‘crop’ you can grow, considering that all plant life in your yard depends on a healthy soil biology.

According to National Wildlife Federation Naturalist David Mizejewski, “Fallen leaves offer a double benefit. Leaves form a natural mulch that helps suppress weeds and fertilizes the soil as it breaks down. Why spend money on mulch and fertilizer when you can make your own?” MORE

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s