By John Green
Orange County Master Gardener
Hello garden friends and Merry Christmas! Today I stand in front of the kitchen sink and next to me is a steaming cup of coffee, as I gaze out the window, mesmerized, once again witnessing another dreary and wet day. . See, I’m reflecting on this week’s gardening article. Through the kitchen window, I watch an abundance of leaves fall freely, suddenly swept away at breakneck speed by an invisible force, pushed without cause to the perimeter of the yard. Mounds of crisp and wet, multicolored dunes undulating carelessly with each breath of winter. One of my four four-legged friends chooses this moment to bark, a passing squirrel perhaps? At this moment, I am brought back to reality. The falling leaves is a good subject. Deciduous trees shed their leaves in the fall / winter. It is a mechanism of survival, of dormancy which allows the tree to conserve energy and water. This week I’m writing about two schools of thought to rake the paper or not?
Why use dead leaves:
Removing fallen leaves from the base of the tree canopy where they usually accumulate can inhibit many microorganisms, insects and small animals that are beneficial to the environment. Raking, removing and composting leaves can destroy the habitat of many small animals that need leaf cover in winter. By working with nature and the ecosystem, you are a steward of the land while improving the lawn. Leaving the leaves in place will provide a healthier population of beneficial insects and animals in the spring.
Below is a list of some of the beneficial animals that leaf removal can displace:
- Frogs, toads, newts, salamanders and other amphibians
- Snails and slugs
- Crickets, beetles, millipedes, millipedes and other insects
- Box turtles
- Spiders and other arachnids
- Moths and butterfly pupae
- Worms and other soil aerators
- Bacteria and microorganisms that improve the soil
- fungi and as well as healthy bacteria needed
Healthy insect populations need leaf litter in winter. These insect populations also feed birds and predatory insects. Allowing the leaves to overwinter in place will form a natural fertilizer that improves your soil over time while suppressing weeds, saving you the effort and cost of bagging.
What to do instead of throwing away the dead leaves:
- Place raked leaves around the perimeter of the lawn
- Rake the leaves and place them on the flower beds as mulch or protection
- Use a trimmer with a mulching blade to make smaller pieces of leaves
- Place raked leaves around the base of shrubs and trees
Remove dead leaves:
There is a good reason behind raking leaves, and it has to do with the health of the lawn as well as the aesthetics of a tidy looking lawn. Some of you may have heard the following warnings about letting leaves stay on top of your lawn:
- The lawn will be suffocated if a thick layer of leaves is left on it
- A layer of leaves will invite pests, disease or any other serious problem like brown plaque.
- A layer of leaves forms a barrier preventing water, nutrients and air flow from reaching your lawn’s root system
- Wet leaves form a mat that can prevent new blades of grass from emerging in the spring.
Don’t use your rake, use your lawn mower in mulch mode. You’ve probably been mulching mowing since fall, but if you haven’t, go ahead and start now with your high blades to mulch the leaves lightly. Then in a few weeks lower the blades a bit and straw again. By doing this you are providing food for the small animals I listed above. Please do not use a blower! You end up blowing the leaves and small animals away, robbing the soil of nature’s greatest resource – rich natural compost from rotting leaf litter.
Too much rake or not? Rake for aesthetics and use the raked leaves in areas around trees and shrubs as well as in vegetable and flower gardens. We should mulch the leaves from our lawns and let them return to the grass and soil for small animals to enjoy.
For more information or to get your gardening questions answered, please contact us:
Master Gardeners of Orange County, Texas
Facebook: Orange County Texas Association of Master Gardeners.
Orange County Master Gardner Helpline: (409) 882-7010