We furiously rake the leaves from our lawn and dutifully fill bag after bag, use the old Radio Flyer wagon to haul them to the curb, and feel a sense of satisfaction despite sore muscles and blisters.
However, is wiping away any evidence of “the fall” the most natural reaction to the season? Leaves turn brown and fall off of deciduous trees not because of the cold, but because of the shortening days of light. There is not enough sun energy for the tree to make chlorophyll so the trees shut this process down.
According to Heather Rhoads at GardeningKnowHow.com, leaves are naturally yellow and orange and the green from the chlorophyll covers this up.
A downside to collecting leaves in bags is that they make up a large percentage of waste in landfills and are not often able to break down due to lack of oxygen. As such, methane gas is generated, contributing to global warming.
Lest we not forget, any blowers, lawn vacuums or lawn mowers that are used to collect leaves are also adding to the emissions mix. Leaves are a natural weed inhibitor and can instead be spread around the garden and used to mulch planting beds. Decomposing leaves are nutrient-rich and benefit the soil.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, “Removing leaves also eliminates vital wildlife habitat. Critters ranging from turtles and toads to birds, 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.”
If you are not comfortable with leaving large leaves on your lawn, using a mower to chop them up is suggested. Letting the leaf mulch sit on the lawn adds nutrients to the soil and will give a positive result in the spring. The grass is going dormant anyway, and it is a myth that leaves kill the lawn.
While a leaf layer several inches deep can have a smothering effect, the chopped up leaves will decompose and support enough oxygen flow to keep natural processes moving. Leaves can also be used as brown matter in compost piles, and often local gardening groups or community gardens may put out the word asking for leaf material for their planting beds.
If you must bag your leaves, it is advised to use a paper leaf bag, not plastic.
Consumer Reports does recommend removing leaves from gutters and downspouts where they can cause clogs, and from driveways and walkways where they can be slippery. Leaves on wooden areas, such as porches, can cause staining so it is a good idea to brush them away.
Did you know that during the depression era, folks raked dry leaves against their foundations to use as insulation? It would not be recommended today, but keeping leaves around for their many benefits instead of whisking them off to giant rotting piles seems to be an eco-friendly and easy way to live in harmony with Mother Nature and stay connected with the natural world around us.