On any autumn Sunday afternoon my grandfather would rake leaves into a pile and then burn them. Lots of people in the neighborhood burned leaves. Smoke would drift up and hang over the houses sending smoke signals about the coming of winter. It was a dangerous practice and I’m glad no one does this anymore.
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Leaves fall for a reason. They are meant to be nutrition for trees and plants for the coming winter and to prepare for the new year. Just follow the cycle. Fallen leaves provide food and shelter for wildlife as well as for trees and plants. You can find all sorts of interesting and beneficial creatures, particularly pollinators, luna moths, salamanders, and other invertebrates, that use the leaves for shelter or food. And we need all of those little creatures to keep our yard, neighborhood, and city green, healthy, and diverse.
You might argue that allowing leaves to rot will kill your perfect lawn. That can happen if you leave a thick layer, but that is not a reason to blow your leaves into the street. Instead, raise the level of your mower and run it over the leaves and let the mulched leaves do their job. D. J. Scully, of the University of Kentucky Campbell County Extension Office, agrees, “The worst thing to do is throw them away.” The mulched pieces fall between the blades of grass and provide rich nutrients as they decay. It’s just that simple - mow.
You will save money not buying chemicals. In fact, the University of Michigan discovered that after three years a lawn could become almost 100% free of crabgrass and dandelions simply by mowing leaf fall.
I use mulched leaves in the garden beds. I rake the leaves into a pile, put the bagger on the mower and then place the mulched leaves in the gardens. The mulch helps the plants and provides a natural habitat for the often unseen but necessary animals that enrich our natural world. By spring, the soil is enriched and ready to grow.
Perhaps you have a backyard composter. D. J. Scully adds that, “You can also add them (leaves) to compost bins.” The mulched leaves help produce a rich garden compost. Save yourself some money and make your own rich compost.
There is another problem with pushing leaves into the street - public safety. The leaves take up valuable parking spaces. Sometimes piles of leaves will sit in the gutters for a week or longer. The leaves often blow across the streets and become slippery from rain and that can create a safety issue for drivers and pedestrians. Leaves clog sewer grates in my neighborhood that often results in minor street flooding. There is no reason to create more potential problems when a simple solution is at hand - mow.
We love our trees, our yards, and our gardens. We like to think of Fort Thomas as a city in a park. It’s one of the positive comments that visitors often make when they visit. Trees are telling us something if we will only listen. The solution is easy and free. So let’s step it up this autumn and feed our yards what our trees gave us.
For more information visit https://ufi.ca.uky.edu/treetalk/wildlife-leaf-habitat