While the trees are turning beautiful shades of gold and red, your yard is suffering. Dried leaves are now taking over the garden you spent so long making look nice, and now this pesky plant matter is covering it all up. Everything needs to be raked up and bagged into trash bags. But wait. Literally all of that is no longer true. There has been extensive amounts of new research stating that leaving leaves on the ground during the fall is actually highly beneficial.
For one, soil tends to lose fertility in the winter, so getting ahead of the game by mulching it in the fall is a must. Taking away leaves removes valuable nutrients from the yard, costing you extra money in fertilizing equipment as a result. Leaving the leaves alone allows them to compost over time, so the nutrients will feed next year’s crop of grass, which is the most important plant that you grow. Let’s not forget that all plant life in our yards depends on a healthy soil biology.
In fact, according to National Wildlife Federation Naturalist David Mizejewski, “fallen leaves offer a double benefit. Leaves form a natural mulch that helps suppress weeds and fertilizes the soil as it breaks down.” Similarly, Thomas Nikoai of Michigan State University says that “leaving the leaves on the lawn is not only a problem, it’s awesome.” He specifies that pointing out that one way of managing the problem is by moving over the fallen leaves helps to break them into smaller pieces, and the leaves in turn will increase the soil’s fertility. Keeping that in mind, this issue can be solved by moving over the pile a few times during the season. Yes, it’s partially true that too many fallen leaves will smother areas of your lawn if they’re left in thick piles all winter. But leaving a thin layer of leaves on the ground as mulch is actually a very economical method of building soil and maintaining a healthy yard.
Because fallen leaves are an additional physical layer of materials above ground, they provide food, shelter and bedding materials to a variety of wildlife. Similarly, some insects require wintering protection, which the leaves provide. The insects themselves work to maintain a healthy yard, so it’s worth doing your part to keep them happy.
However, if you’re looking for a tidier look to your lawn and don’t want the dried leaves to get in the way, you can easily rake them into garden beds, flower beds, or as mulch around the trees. You can leave the leaves whole or break them down a bit before scattering them. If you cover garden beds with a thick mulch in the fall, you will effectively build soil fertility and keep the yard neater. One way of breaking the leaves down into mulch is to place them in a large trash can and then use a weed-eater to slash the leaves into small pieces for later use.
In a pinch, leaves are a great addition to the home compost pile. By keeping a large pile of leaves near the compost, they can be used to cover layers of food waste accumulated through winter, helping reduce the smell. Fallen leaves also have their use by leaving a large pile of them on less attractive looking parts of the yard. By the spring, you will have a rich soil on the bottom layer and mulch that can be dug into spring garden beds as an addition to soil.