Updated: Nov 10, 2019
Written By: Georgette Sorsens
If you hate raking leaves, get ready to rejoice!
As Southern California enters late-autumn, fallen leaves weave a warm tapestry that blankets the earth. If you have been following along with our posts, we have some fabulous tips for you in our Earth Day Tips blog, as well as our Master Gardner Tips blog post.
Most of us have been told to rake those leaves because they can hurt the grass. But the truth is removing the leaves can also remove important nutrients from your yard. And while it true that excessive amounts of fallen leaves can smother your lawn, they can be re-purposed instead of tossed away.
Not only are fallen leaves beautiful, but they also serve an important ecological purpose. Spread them around your garden beds to create a natural mulch that recycles nutrients back into the soil for plants to use the following spring.
To get the most benefit from your fallen leaves, mow the leaves using your lawnmower’s mulching function. (Did you even know lawn mowers had such a thing? Well, now you do – and you have a reason to use it!) This will encourage decomposition and allow shredded leaves to be quickly broken down into soil.
For those of you who want your lawns to sparkle and shine, mulch the leaves and then place them in garden or flower beds, concentrated near trees, or simply mixed into a compost pile with kitchen scraps. Our recommended compost mix contains two parts carbon-rich matter, like dead leaves, wood chips, and straw, to counter-balance the one-part nitrogen-rich matter, like food waste and green plants. The leaves from your yard add incredible nutrients for a well-balanced and healthy compost pile.
Why do trees lose their leaves every autumn?
It’s a natural mechanism to conserve water during the cold winter. Leaves have a built-in biological feature that works as a natural water conservation method. Just like we start preparing for cold temperatures by sealing drafty windows, trees shed their leaves to keep their living tissue well nourished and conserve their water supply.
Fallen leaf mulch protects the roots and soil from harsh winter weather while providing the perfect habitat of nourishing natural materials for invertebrates and microorganisms.
This means that temperate forests are self-mulching, self-composting ecological systems, thanks to seasonal changes. “Fallen leaves offer a double benefit,” says National Wildlife Federation Naturalist David Mizejewski. “Leaves form a natural mulch that helps suppress weeds and fertilizes the soil as it breaks down. Why spend so much money on mulch and fertilizer when you can make your own?”