lawn care, mulch, organic, sustainable, Uncategorized

Rake Those Leaves, or Leaf It Alone?

It’s beginning to look a lot like…..well, like AUTUMN here in South Texas.  But, I don’t dread leaves on the ground anymore.

lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia) leaves quickly decompose because of their diminutive size
HIT: leave the leaves for a more nutritious meal!

Winter officially begins today, December 21st, even if my sister in Denver begs to differ.  Storms here sent leaves scurrying, as per schedule this week.  So, what should be done about that?  (The leaves, I mean.  Only way to deal with cold is LEAF yourself.)  Many communities follow a Don’t Bag It! program in response to a GROWING problem:  landscape waste in landfills.  Some estimates say 20-30% of trash headed to landfills is yard debris and of that, 40-50% is leaves.  While we can say, “leaves break down anyway,” the costs hauling them to a landfill are astronomical.  Then the resulting decomposed black gold – compost full of nutrients for which our lawns beg anyway – is left to fertilize trash.  In fact, leaves contain up to 80% of gathered nutrients from the growing season, according to Texas A&M University. Seeing a vicious cycle here?  Fertilize the plants, gather the waste, cart it off, fertilize the plants, gather the waste, cart it off…..

WHY do people still rake, then?  And what happens to the grass if you refrain from de-leafing?  My theory is the yard guys need something to do after mowing season, or maybe the pressure is on when our neighbors do it, making us look like lazy bums with a messy yard if we don’t.  It’s great exercise to rake leaves and tons of fun to play in them.  And don’t leaves left in beds blow everywhere?  Won’t they smother the lawn?  The answer is yes, and no.

MYTH: leaves leave you looking like a bum!

Flower/shrub beds benefit greatly from a warm blanket of leaves in winter. If you don’t want your natural mulch to go airborne with a strong wind, run a mower over leaves on the lawn, putting the shredded leaves on top of the whole ones that have fallen in the bed.  The new leaves will mat together.  Lawngrass prefers chopped salad over large bites anyway.  Smaller pieces add nutrients back into the soil, where they need to go, with a bonus of fewer bare spots for winter weeds to take hold.

Still expect the stigma of bum-on-the-block if you leave the leaves where they lie?  Then gather them up and put them into a compost bin or barrel instead of a trashbag.  They’ll rot into fertilizer in no time.  Here’s a video from my friend P. Allen Smith showing exactly how to compost the leaves from your yard.

So, let your landscape have its mulch and eat it, too.  Might make you look forward to watching the leaves rain down next year.

2 thoughts on “Rake Those Leaves, or Leaf It Alone?”

  1. My husband and I go “leafing.” We drive through the neighborhood, picking up a bags of leaves and pine needles to spread into our flower beds. We look like the Clampetts when the truck bed is full of bags … but we have a thriving earthworm population 🙂

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