Leave the Leaves
This fall, the Webster Groves Green Space and Sustainability Commissions are making a case for Leaving the Leaves in your garden. Fallen leaves hold nutrients that the trees, plants, and soil in your yard need. They provide shelter for the insects and wildlife we all need to survive. Plus, leaves make a great replacement for hardwood mulch. So, this year, skip the blower and leave the leaves for a healthier yard and community!
The Benefits of Fallen Leaves
The vast majority of butterflies and moths overwinter in the landscape as an egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, or adult. Bumble bees, spiders, snails, worms, beetles, millipedes, mites, and more also rely on leaf litter for protection. These animals, in turn, are food for chipmunks, turtles, birds, and amphibians. Leaves are integral to sustaining the natural web of life.
Leaves provide valuable organic matter when they break down. They help build up healthy soil to support all of the plants in your garden, from your trees to your turf. In soil, organic matter helps to increase biodiversity, increase water retention, improve water quality, and improve soil aeration.
Fallen leaves have the same weed suppression and moisture retention properties of shredded wood mulch—and they're free.
The practice of leaving leaves may not align with every homeowner’s desire for a neat and tidy yard. It may be habitual, a matter of social conditioning, or a holdover of outdated gardening practices from year’s past, but every fall many people rake, mow, blow, or hire someone to take away a bit of nature. You can save time and money by taking a different approach.
Where to Leave the Leaves
To mimic the natural ecosystem an animal needs, a layer of leaves needs to be at least a couple of inches thick. While this would be too much of a good thing for turf grass to handle, leaves can be collected in planting beds around ornamental trees, shrubs, and perennials, or turned into a pile in a corner of your yard. When moving leaves, opt for raking or using a leaf vacuum to capture whole leaves, rather than shredding them with a mower. While shredding leaves is certainly a more environmentally friendly practice than bagging leaves and sending them to the landfill—shredded leaves do not provide the same cover as leaving them whole, and eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalis may be destroyed when shredding.
If You Leave the Leaves
Tell your neighbors what you’re doing so they know you’re not just being lazy, share what you know about winter cover for wildlife, and remember your leaves allow you to have a yard for you, your family, and all of the animals with which we share this planet.
If you decide to clean-up the garden and remove the leaves in spring, make sure you wait until late in the season so as not to destroy all the life you’ve worked to protect.
Spread the Word
You can display a yard sign. If you’d like to demonstrate your commitment to this initiative, yard signs are available at cost ($7), while they last, at the WG Rec Center.
- Xerces Society
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: This Fall, Leave the Leaves!
- Missouri Department of Conservation: Autumn Leaves Myth & Reality
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