Leaving Leaves

Yesterday I finally got around to the yard leaf cleanup. I’d been putting it off until the majority of leaves had fallen. Having oak trees around means that’s comparatively late and with a vernal witchhazel that holds its leaves all winter it also means I’m not going to get everything. But no worries! The leaves aren’t really  going anywhere anyway.

Photo Nov 18, 10 17 03 AM

Years ago it occurred to me that I was wasting a LOT of time raking leaves and either putting them on the curb for the city to pick up or shredding them into the compost bins. For the free organic matter I wasn’t sending away I was putting time and effort into speeding up a process that would happen eventually on its own. So I stopped. I only clear them off the paved surfaces and the very small lawn in the back yard. There is no lawn in front. Over winter some of this free, natural, organic mulch tends to shift around and leave bare spots so I like to pack one of the compost bins with dry oak leaves to replenish those areas in spring.

Photo Nov 18, 10 16 56 AM

Because my gardens are all in varying degrees of shade I’ve relied quite a bit on hostas to fill up space. Until I stopped raking I had problems with slugs chewing on the leaves. Conventional wisdom is that getting rid of that organic matter discourages slugs. When I started leaving the leaves the slug damage stopped. I can’t be certain why, but I suspect it’s either that they had more to eat at safe, moist, ground level and left the hostas alone or that this healthier habitat for invertebrates encouraged slug predators that are keeping them in check. In any case, my hostas look great all season.

Habitat Signs

Not only are my plants healthier now, this lazy approach to gardening has helped make it possible to certify the yard as a wildlife habitat and to provide resources for pollinators as well.

Recently I’ve been coming across articles encouraging leaving fallen leaves for wildlife like these from The Xerces Society, The National Wildlife Federation and Habitat Network. How do you handle your autumn leaves? I encourage you to do some reading and, if you’re able, consider leaving them in place. Wildlife and your back will thank you.

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11 thoughts on “Leaving Leaves

  1. The local council had someone noisily blowing leaves off the paths in the park last week. I thought it was a bit of a waste of time and money too, as well as disturbing the peace of the park.

    1. They have to. The council has a duty of care to keep the paths clear because if some old dear slips on wet leaves the council can be held accountable.
      Some councils will also hoover up the leaves to make compost heaps. I did it when I worked for the council, but we only did it in certain parks. Also, it keeps the place looking nicer.

      And we only did this first thing in the morning. It doesn’t make sense to do it at other times.

    2. Yes, liability is always an issue in public spaces. I do like that more parks and commercial areas are incorporating areas that are alternatives to lawns in their landscapes more these days. Much more economical in the long run.

  2. I don’t have any trees near me that I get any real amount in my garden. Only the ones that drop from my smoke bush and I suppose I will get some with my cherry… But that’s it. So far I have been collecting them to make leaf mould. But I suppose I could just dump them in the borders.

    1. It’s all a tradeoff, really. I’m lucky to have enough leaves to be able to take the softer ones (the oak leaves take forever to mold down) when I want some humus for my containers.

      1. Luckily Cotinus leaves break down fairly quick… I just wish I got more from it.
        Not sure about cherry tree leaves.

        One thing that someone suggested on another blog I read… I could gather them from a local field or something if I really wanted to make more. I have a whole copse of trees beyond the back of my house, I just need to spend an hour or so one day and I could get bags full of it. I doubt I would do any damage to the local wildlife.

  3. I have never removed the leaves as I find they disappear relatively rapidly, I suppose the worms drag them down. This year I have been frantically trying to put as many as I can into the two compost heaps as I found they break down beautifully. I have left a pile of leaves only in previous years and this has provided an excellent compost as well. I use the wet leaves as mulch around plants. In fact it is a race between me and the worms. Amelia

    1. Yes, the worms are probably the biggest consumers here as well. We’ve got the added “bonus” of a new species that’s been recently introduced that breaks them down too rapidly, harming the soil and living plants in the process. Grrrrrr!

  4. Good for you, Mark! Usually allowing Nature to do its own thing is the best solution. Here we don’t really have an autumn season where the leaves fall and almost all our trees are evergreen. A few like the teak tree do decide to mess things up. I prefer to clear those because they are so big that I cant make out if there’s a snake hiding under them. Otherwise I just let the leaves be. The monsoon usually takes care of them anyway!

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