Let the leaves be

To the Editor,

The fall leaves have been, and still are, beautiful this year. With gravity’s assistance they are building their annual carpet on the forest floor, and on our yards.

Have you started clearing your leaves already? Why do we do this every year? If asked this question by a young child, what would you tell them? Would you say that the leaves look messy? Well, that’s a rather subjective term which varies with individual preferences. Some folks like the look of the shapes and the evolving colours of fallen leaves on their lawns. Have we simply transferred our house cleaning habits to our yards, treating leaves on the lawn like lint on the living room carpet?

Would you tell the child that the leaves, if not removed, are bad for the lawn? Let’s take a look at that rationale, as it is a generalization which apparently does not stand up to scrutiny. Yes, leaves in piles, or even thick layers, will prevent or hinder healthy growth of the grass in the following spring. This is not necessarily so for a less dense fall leaf covering.
“Leaves form a natural mulch that helps suppress weeds and fertilizes the soil as it breaks down.  Why spend money on fertilizer when you can make your own?  Turning leaves into solid waste is, well, wasteful,” said National Wildlife Federation naturalist David Mizejewski.

“Removing leaves also eliminates vital wildlife habitat. Critters ranging from turtles to toads and songbirds, mammals and invertebrates rely on leaf litter for food, shelter and nesting material.  Many moth and butterfly caterpillars overwinter in fallen leaves before emerging in spring. Also, sending organic matter such as leaves to the landfill causes the release of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.” It is also suggested from treehugger.com “that the leaves are essentially composted over time into nutrients that feed both the next year’s ‘crop’ of grass, but which also feed a vast number of microbes in the soil, which are actually the most important ‘crop’ you can grow, considering that all plant life in your yard depends on a healthy soil biology.”

For those not wanting to leave the leaf covering on their entire yard, why not conduct an experiment this year? Select an area of your yard that you are willing to let go natural and see what it looks like in the spring. OK, if you don’t wish to allow any full-size leaves to remain on your grass, the following suggestion are offered by the David Suzuki Foundation:
-run your mower over the leaves and mulch them into tiny fragments, still providing numerous benefits
-rake leaves off the lawn into your garden beds, or at the base of trees
-backyard composting benefits from balancing “greens” with “browns”, so store leaves to be added in layers kitchen scraps throughout the winter.
Finally, as David Mizejewski says, “the less time you spend raking leaves, the more time you’ll have to enjoy the gorgeous fall weather and the wildlife that visits your garden.”

John Gibb
Minden