“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”
Where are all these leaves coming from and will they ever stop?
Autumn leaves are full of beauty while in their trees. Even during their short, final flight of life there is plenty of intrigue. But nothing depreciates faster than the aesthetics of a leaf upon contact with the earth. Although this annual leaf-drop cycle plays a vital role for both the individual health of the tree as well as the communal health of the forest, in our urban setting the leaf litter can be unsightly, create undesirable issues in our residential landscapes as well as being dangerously slippery when wet.
Did You Know?With most deciduous trees, the fall colors we enjoy so much are always present in the leaf. It is only when the shorter days of Fall reduce the production of green chlorophyll that brings those colors to our attention.
So what to do about all these leaves? In a natural environment, such as a forest, the leaves decompose and replenish the soil with nutrients and maintain the humus layer of the forest floor that absorbs and holds rainfall. Fallen leaves are also food for numerous soil organisms vital to the forest ecosystem. However, in an urban setting, we often are not allowed to leave things so natural. So what should we do with all of those leaves?
Option number one is to do nothing. Let nature run its course. The leaves will eventually decompose and return to the earth as intended. But, in the meantime, they may clog a drain which may lead to a flooded basement; or they may become the bane of the neighborhood because everyone else on the street is cleaning their leaves up; or, they become a slippery mess on your street, sidewalk or entryway and someone has an accident. This might not be the best option for our urban living style.
Another option is to rake the leaves off the lawn and leave them to decompose in the beds. Well, why not? Free mulch, right? Well, not exactly. Leaves piled in your beds are hardly the same as compost or mulch. When leaves become wet they tend to matt up and cohere, which restricts the flow of air and water, promoting molds and diseases. Piling leaves on your beds can have a suffocating effect. It can also smell pretty funky.
A final option is to collect the leaves from the lawn and beds and put them in your compost pile, yard waste bin, or take them to a facility for composting. In an ideal world, we would all be composting on-site. This would greatly reduce the amount of fuel spent on the process. But for now, most of us will compost off-site and then import the finished product, mulch that is ready for spreading on our beds, which is always highly recommended.
When we remove organic materials from a space, we should always replace them. After your leaves are cleaned up, you should replace them with some nutrient-rich compost or mulch. After all, this is what your trees were intending to do in the first place, before you got involved. Now your trees and plants will be happy because they maintain their humus layer and you will be happy because your yard looks spectacular, and it will continue to do so throughout the Winter.