It is that time of year again, when leaves are falling from the trees and making a mess of your beautiful yard and gardens. They are littering up your sidewalks and drives, and piling up in your window-wells. While they are beautiful in colors, providing a fun place to play for kids and adults alike, they are messy.
However, while I encourage you to pick leaves off your walks and drives, and certainly clean out those window-wells, I would also encourage you to leave at least some leaves amongst the flowers and on the lawn. Remember, leaves contain valuable nutrients and organic matter that can decompose and enrich your soils. If you haul all of them off, you are robbing yourself and your garden of future benefits.
As leaves pile up on your lawn, change the blades of your mower to a mulching blade and mow up those leaves! They will be chopped with the lawn clippings and break down faster into your soil. As they decompose, micro-organisms such as earthworms and beneficial nematodes will munch on and help release the nutrients back to the soil through their castings.
In your flower beds, it is okay to rake and remove leaves if they pile up too high around plants. A better option, though, is to get a leaf vacuum and remove all the leaves. Once they are out and chopped up by the vacuum, put them back down as fall mulch amongst the flowers. They will add organic matter and nutrients here too. That is less fertilizer you have to apply next year.
Using chopped leaves is the best way to mulch, because they improve the soil and use less available nutrients as they break down. Wood chip mulches use a lot of nutrients and can take years to break down, while you keep adding them on, year after year. Plus, leaves are free!
Hopefully I have encouraged you to think about the best use for your leaves this autumn!