An Autumn Challenge

Nov 3, 2022 | Gardens & Grounds

Around the Grounds: An Autumn Challenge

From the Desk of Bennett Dowling, 577 Organic Garden Landscape Horticulturist

I am going to issue you a challenge this fall: don’t take any fallen leaves to the curb.

So many benefits, both to the soil and wildlife, come to our garden by allowing leaves to accumulate and break down naturally. When leaves break down, they contribute organic matter to the soil, which not only provides nutrients but also contributes to a healthy soil texture that both drains well and holds moisture (I know, it seems like a contradiction, doesn’t it? But that’s the magic of soil!)

Fallen leaves also provide shelter for many overwintering insects, reptiles, amphibians, and other fauna. The air between the leaves retains some warmth similar to the air spaces between goose down in a good jacket. This same insulating effect benefits many plants laying dormant for the winter; the blanket of leaves lessens the damaging swings in temperature and prevents the root damage that can occur when uncovered soils freeze and thaw throughout the winter.

So how do we provide these benefits to our soil while also ensuring an aesthetically pleasing garden? I don’t mind allowing leaves to accumulate naturally in less prominent areas, but in garden beds that are focal points, I prefer the look of shredded leaves. I rake all the leaves into the lawn and then mow over them with the bag attached. The shredded leaves form a beautiful carpet when spread a few inches thick through the garden beds.

Lastly, if you are a fan of composting, remember to save a good amount of leaves in bags or garbage cans for the next growing season. By summer, the garden produces a large amount of high-nitrogen green material that benefits from the addition of higher carbon material like dried leaves. It is advantageous for you to shred these leaves before adding them to the compost pile, as shredded leaves will break down more quickly.

Have I convinced you? Will you accept the challenge?

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