Why you Shouldn’t Rake all your Leaves this Fall
Ah, the sights and sounds of fall! Crisp, cool air, beautifully colored leaves, and…..leaf blowers? Betcha you’ve heard more than your fair share. I know I have!
If you’re like me, you absolutely hate raking or blowing leaves. It seems, at least here in CT, like the trees don’t drop all their leaves until the temperatures have REALLY dropped, and I like nothing less than being outside on a 30 degree day shivering while I’m raking leaves!
So, what if there’s an alternative? One that not only saves you lots of work, but is also better for your local ecosystem?
So, what’s the alternative? Leave the leaves!
Why taking Leaves to the Landfill is a Bad Idea
Did you know that more than 33 million tons of leaves go to landfills every year (according to this article)? The sad thing is that most times, the leaves are encased in plastic bags when they get there so they don’t break down, and they aren’t recycled or mulched.
Basically, taking leaves to the dump takes fully compostable, useful materials and turns them into 33 million tons of new garbage every year! WOW!
How to Handle Leaves on your Lawn
If you have lots of leaves on your lawn, there’s no need to rake or blow them. Just mow once or twice after most of the leaves have fallen and you’ll have done everything you need to.
Mulched leaves make great food for your lawn, and they’ll be almost fully broken down by spring, so they won’t add to your spring chores either.
NOTE: Don’t leave non-mulched leaves on your grass all winter, particularly if they’re large leaves from trees like Norway maples. The leaves can form a wet, solid mat that will smother the grass. Smaller, lighter leaves like those of Japanese maples won’t hurt your lawn, even if they’re left whole.
How to Handle Leaves in your Flower Beds
Leave them! That’s right, don’t do anything with them this fall.
I NEVER clear the leaves out of my beds in the fall. They stay all winter, where they create a natural “blanket” for my plants and help protect them from extreme temperature changes.
But Why Leave the Leaves in your Flower Beds?
Well, besides the protection they provide your plants, leaves also provide protection for lots of beneficial bugs and other small critters.
Toads and even turtles use leaves to overwinter, as do many moth and butterfly species, and even some spiders. I had to move a few leaves while bringing some tender plants in and found two wooly bear caterpillars under them. They’re now cozy and safe under a pile of leaves on my front porch against my house.
Some moths and butterflies overwinter as adults, and use the protection of leaves to stay warm and alive all winter. Others overwinter as chrysalides and cocoons, and they may very well be attached to your standing dead plants, so leaving all of it until spring is a really good idea.
What if you Have to Remove the Leaves?
Maybe you have too many leaves to mow into your lawn, or you have a picky spouse who wants all the leaves gone. Maybe, like me, you have a large tree right next to your driveway, and you have to get the leaves up so no one slips when they walk in from the car. What can you do then?
If you have a wooded area on your property, a great thing to do is create a brush pile. We have one out back to which we add branches, twigs, leaves and anything else we need to get rid of.
One year, we removed a whole bunch of sod to start a new garden and we laid that on top of the pile. You wouldn’t believe how quickly it all broke down! By the following spring, the massive 6 foot tall pile was only about 3 feet tall.
The great thing about doing this? You’re giving small critters like rabbits and birds a cozy, safe shelter for the winter.
No space at all for a pile? At our old house, we lived in a neighborhood where houses backed right up to each other, so no real place to put our leaves, although we had a ton from a line of trees on the property line.
One year, I raked all the leaves and put them in black contractor bags to take to the dump (hey, don’t yell at me, I didn’t know any better yet!). The thing is, we got snow so early and so continuously that year that I never got them to the dump. The bags sat in the sun next to my chain link fence all winter long, either covered in snow or baking in their little black homes until spring.
What happened when spring came? I had the most AMAZING leaf mould compost you’ve ever seen! I even found a salamander living in one of the bags (the bags themselves had quite a few holes in them, and the tops were open as well).
I inadvertently created amazing garden gold, without even trying and with no idea what I was doing! I don’t think this would work so well all the time, but the combination of open black bags sitting in the sun, along with lots of moisture that winter in the form of snow really worked to break the leaves down beautifully.
When SHOULD I Clean up the Leaves?
If you don’t mind the look of the leaves in your flower beds, the answer is NEVER! They make great compost and will help keep weeds down nicely.
NOTE: If you have thick clumps of leaves in your beds, you should clean those out in the spring so they don’t smother your new baby plants when they come up.
If, like me, you prefer the look of other types of mulch like cedar or pine bark, feel free to rake your flower beds out in the spring. BUT, be sure to wait until temps are routinely getting into the 50’s F during the day. Here in the North, that’s at least April, sometimes later.
By waiting until temps are warmer, you’re ensuring that any hibernating or overwintering critters have vacated their winter homes, so you won’t step on or disturb them.
I actually wait a bit longer than this. We tend to have very wet springs here in the Northeast, and walking on the wet soil compacts it terribly. With this in mind, I try to wait until the weather has started to dry out and I’m not chancing making a mess of my soil while doing my cleanup.
Sometimes, this is mid-May or so, but no worries, those leaves are still doing their good work right through spring, so letting them be for a while doesn’t hurt anything.
I hope today’s post has given you some food for thought, and maybe an excuse not to do so much yard work this fall! I’ve included a few pinnable images below. Please pin to your Gardening or Outdoors boards for future reference.
As always, thanks for reading, smile and have a crazy organic day!
Posts Related to Leave those Leaves!
- Planning your Spring Garden
- Beneficial Insects
- Encouraging Biodiversity
- Putting your Fall Garden to Bed
- No-Till Gardening