This time of year, leaves get a lot of attention. First, we all enjoy the brilliant colors that fill the landscape as the nights get cooler. Later, we don't enjoy the tasks of cleaning them up as they drop on our lawns. So, what are we to do? Back when I was growing up, all we had was a rake. Now, you not only have rakes, but you also have blowers, blower/vacuums and shredders. Well, as it turns out, none of those are the best thing for you, your lawn, or the environment.
I have always tried to find the most natural way to work with the landscape - after all, it has survived a long time without our intervention. Pick the right plants, put them in the right spots and they'll do just fine. Better, in fact, than any plant you put in just because you like the way it looks and are willing to spend countless hours and dollars nourishing and caring for that plant. Healthy landscapes are not high input landscapes.
Back to the leaves - at what point did we decide it was necessary to remove them from our yards? While we don't want our lawns to get smothered by the leaves, which can happen, leaves have always provided a rich source of nutrients for lawns and gardens. Some of the richest soils are found under trees and shrubs. Once we get a better understanding of the role of leaves, we look for other ways to enhance their impact on our landscapes.
Initially, it was out of my laziness that I didn't rake the leaves in my yard, I just ran over them with the mower. I also bagged most of them, but soon tired of constantly emptying the bags. So, now I run over them without the bag, then back over them a second time, after they had been shredded by the first pass. That meant a lot fewer stops to empty the bag and resulted in a lot fewer bags of shredded leaves to dispose of.
Next, I began to put those shredded leaves in my compost, or covering areas for new flower beds. The finer texture allowed them to break down much more quickly and begin building a rich soil for the future plants. I also realized that the first pass over the lawn to shred the leaves was providing an excellent mulch for the grass. Yes, lawns should be mulched, too! Why clear everything off my lawn, only to purchase compost to spread over it, when I could use what was already there?
It all comes down to this - using natural processes in your landscape results in much better looking and healthier yards and neighborhoods. A recent study by Michigan State University showed that mulching leaves on your lawn instead of raking resulted in a better spring green up and fewer dandelions.