Fall leaves: nature’s blanket and mulch

Fall leaves are nature’s bounty that provides wildlife-friendly mulch to enrich our soils as well as a good ‘blanket’ that can be used to protect plants in areas that experience freezing temps from damage from freeze-thaw cycles. And such a bargain as tree leaves are free.

If you haven’t checked out the Birds and Blooms website page ‘25 Ways to a Greener Garden‘ I encourage you to do so. It has some great suggestions for maintaining an great lawn and garden in an environmentally sensitive manner that is bird, butterfly, pet and child friendly. Plus some of these tips will help you reduce your water bill with water-saving ways to garden. One of those hints is to shred leaves on your lawn by running over them with your mower. Though a mulching mower works best, you can shred leaves with a regular mower by running also. As noted on the above, just don’t blanket your lawn with shredded leaves so thick you can’t see the grass. If you have too many leaves just rake some over to protect your perennials as is shown in the photo above of my hummingbird/butterfly/pollinator garden–they do a great job of mulching plants to keep the ground from buckling up when subjected to repeated freeze-thaw cycles. Plus some of the leaves break down to add their nutrients to your soil so you will have healthier plants.

Amendment: Please leave some bare patches of soil uncovered as Athena Rayne Anderson (see comment below), who is the author of Pollinators.info website and working on her Ph.D. in ecology, states that “most native bees are ground-nesters and there might be developing bee larvae in bare patches that you can’t see because the mother sealed the entrance to the nest.”

And American Robins as well as several other bird species just love to probe and dig in leaf litter for food, rewarding you with a bird-friendly yard.   The Carolina Wren, shown in the photo on the right, is one bird that shows up in backyards that is known for “hopping and flitting on the ground turning over leaf litter” says Cornell Lab’s ‘Nestwatchers Guide’.

Beautify Wildlife Garden‘, a blog that provides great information on how to have a beautiful garden that is also friendly birds, butterflies, bees and other wildlife, has an entry ‘Leave those leaves‘ written by Ellen Sousa that has a lot of specific information about using leaves as mulch especially in areas of the country with damp climates (as I live in a semi-arid part of Colorado I am more familiar with the issues around dealing with drought than dampness) and cautions about leaves from large oak trees. I highly recommend this blog article as it has many other ideas for nature-friendly things to do with leaves to keep them out of landfills. I also recommend the post by Carol Sevilla Brown, another of their bloggers, on her Ecosystem Gardening blog that discusses the ‘life’ that overwinter in leaf litter which includes some butteflies

And please don’t just rake them into the street as in most areas they get carried away in stormwater where they can not only clog stormwater drains but pollute our streams and rivers since stormwater usually goes into them untreated–most leaves in natural areas remain on the ground so streams are not equipped to handle the heavy load of leaves from urban run-off. Be nature friendly-recycle your leaves.

Do you have other nature-friendly ideas for recycling leaves?

  1. says

    Hi SeEtta!
    I’m glad to see a post about leaving leaves on the lawn. Leaf piles can serve as overwintering sites for young queen bumble bees too! These bees are important pollinators of blueberries, tomatoes, and a lot of other crops. But I’d be careful piling leaves over bare patches of soil- most native bees are ground-nesters and there might be developing bee larvae in bare patches that you can’t see because the mother sealed the entrance to the nest. Newly mature bees can’t climb through mulch or dense litter, so leaving some bare patches in your yard could provide a refuge for ground-nesting bees to reproduce. :)

  2. says

    Athena–Thank you for the information about not putting the leaves over bare patches of soil. I was unaware that I might be covering some bee larvae and I certainly don’t want to do anything to impede these native bee pollinators–I really owe them as my one tomato plant really produced well this year. This week-end I will go check my yard and more leaves from areas with bare patches of soil. I really appreciate your expertise.

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