Sometimes I wonder if bagging leaves started as a practical joke on us homeowners. As an artist and a gardener, I can tell you that getting rid of leaves is one of those suburban traditions that just doesn’t make sense.
Leaves are great natural mulch.
From a gardener’s perspective, leaves are healthy. They are nature’s great compost, perfectly designed to enrich the roots of trees, shrubs and flowers. They have nutrients in them that the trees draw up from deep in the soil. Why would we throw them out?
From an artist’s perspective, leaves are no problem. They’re brown, just like mulch. They look great in your beds, around your shrubs. If your leaves look too big, just run the edges of your beds over a few times with a mower or put them in a shredder before you blow them into your shrubbery beds.
The entire trick to mulching with leaves is this: edges. If you can’t part with the look of neat beds, purchase a few bags of brown mulch. Mound the mulch along the edges of the beds. Six inches in, let it thin out. Take a few handfuls and scatter it into the bed so the mulch blends into the natural shredded leaves.
Take it from an artist – the human eye is mysteriously attracted to neat edges, and for some reason will ignore all kinds of messiness – if only the edges are neat.
Save money on mulch. Save money on fertilizer. Leave the leaves.
Leaves are a haven for pollinators.
Leaves make a healthier landscape. They hold moisture. Among the leaves are the cocoons of hundreds of butterflies and moths who are natural pollinators. Along with the leaves in our beds are dry stems and pieces of wood that shelter small pollinating bees over the winter. The nutrients and microbes of leaf litter sustain thousands of insects and small animals who eat them – snails, fireflies, lizards, birds, turtles, salamanders …
They all depend on the nutrients of leaf litter for the foundation of their food chain.
Community trends favor healthier landscaping.
In the past few years, savvy communities and neighborhoods have been easing away from the sterile look of chemical- and maintenance-dependent turf. These neighborhoods have developed standards that allow more natural designs of native grasses and wildflower landscaping. Pollinators thrive. Dragonflies flourish and control mosquitos.
The healthiest and most stress-free fall yard you’ve ever enjoyed might be yours with this one simple idea.
Leave the leaves.
By Ann Litrel, contributing writer, artist and certified Master Naturalist. AnnLitrel.com