October 9, 2011

Lessons from the Landscape: Why do we throw away our leaves?

Posted by Kristin


Japanese Maple leaf love. Photo from Pintrest.

Lessons from the Landscape is a new series of posts devoted to thinking about ways we can stop, listen and learn from mother nature. Enjoy!


Do you ever just stop, look around sometimes, and wonder why we do the things we do? It could be the way we clean our bathroom, the way we cook our food, or the way we do laundry. While in most cases there's a method to our madness, I've found on more occasions than one that....sometimes there's not!  I often take this kind of thinking outdoors  in my work as a landscape designer and planner. I'm always trying to observe and learn from the greatest teacher of gardening and natural systems: Mother Nature.  When I stop and observe why our natural world does the things in the way it does, I often see that there's a distinct purpose behind things that may appear as an annoyance on the surface.

Beautiful yellow Beech leaves. Photo from Pintrest.


One thing I've been thinking about lately is why we get rid of leaves with curbside pick ups.  We spend money on the special brown paper bags, we put lots of labor into raking them up, and then we put the bags out by the side of the road for someone else to take away. What we may not realize is that we're throwing away a valuable resource every time we do that.


Not only do they look beautiful, but leaves
 are an important source of nutrients for our soil.


I'm not going to bore you with the details of why trees lose their leaves but one of the benefits of that process is that the leaves decompose over time and add valuable organic matter and micro-nutrients back into the soil.  And any gardener worth their salt knows that your gardens are only as good as your soil.  Healthy soil is a key ingredient for healthy gardens. So there's point number one for building my case. We've got a free source of nutrients from mother nature that we can use over and over again each year!


Don't let the garbage man (or woman) take these babies away! Photo from Pintrest.


The other reason leaves are beneficial, especially to us frugal folk, is because they're a free mulch for our garden beds- and we all know I love free stuff! So while we may spend hours raking leaves in the fall (or pay some little kid to do it for us), many of us also spend lots of money each spring mulching our garden beds with shredded (and sometimes dyed- why God why?) bark mulch.  While shredded bark mulch does offer a nice manicured look for a garden bed, we've got a free source of mulch right in our own yards that actually improves the soil.


These folks have used leaf mulch in their garden beds and it not only looks good but looks appropriate for the architecture of the house. I don't think they had shredded bark mulch in the 1800's!


So for those of you willing to rethink the tradition of getting rid of your leaves, here's a great way to turn leaves into leaf mulch.You can either use leaves just as they are as a mulch or you can let them break down over the winter so they're in smaller pieces for the spring.

1. The first step is raking the leaves into large piles. If you're using the leaves right away as a mulch, place around your plants in a 2 -3 " layer. Water the leaves down with a hose so that they lock in place and don't blow away.

2. Another option is to let your lawn mower do the work. If you're lawn is covered in leaves, just attach the bag component to the lawn mower to collect the clippings instead of  letting them blow out the side. The collected clippings will be a nicely shredded leaf mulch ready to go in the garden.

3. If you're going to let the leaves break down a bit, place them in a wheel barrow or bucket and transport them to a spot in your yard where you can make a leaf pile. This can be done in any corner of the yard or even under a tree.

4. Collect all your leaves into a pile and weigh the pile down with some branches so they don't blow away. Water the pile well to further help the leaves to lock into place and stay put.  Now leave your pile until spring and use as needed.

5.You can also fill black plastic bags with the leaves and stack them under a tree or along the side of your house (which can also help with reducing winter drafts). The black plastic will heat up from the sun and cause the leaves to break down into a mulch much faster than if they're left on their own.  Its also a good way to store the leaves in a tidier manner if you don't have room for a large pile.

If you're a garden junkie and want to read up more on the benefits of recycling leaves and different ways to use them, check out this very informative article form the Texas A&M University Extension Service. Now run out to the curb and grab that bag of leaves!


I just added this last photo because it makes me happy. Thank you Pintrest.

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