- Author: Denise Godbout-Avant
People often rake their leaves and put them out to be picked up as trash. I have always preferred to leave the leaves for my garden.
If you take a walk in a forest, you'll see leaf layers several inches deep around trees and bushes. Fallen leaves have a complex relationship with trees and nature, providing many benefits which can be reproduced to some extent in our gardens.
Fallen leaves have the same weed suppression and moisture retention properties of shredded wood mulch—and they're free! Where mulch is desired as a decorative element, what could be more seasonally appropriate than a pile of brightly colored fall leaves? This natural mulch also provides insulating winter cover from cold temperatures for roots, seeds, and bulbs.
A Web of Life in Leaf Litter
Leaf litter isn't just free fertilizer and mulch. It provides food and shelter for a wide variety of living things including spiders, snails, worms, beetles, millipedes, mites, toads, frogs and more—these in turn support mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians that rely on these creatures for food.
Detritivores (organisms that eat dead or decaying plants or animals) break up and excrete leaf litter. Fungi and bacteria then take over and complete the recycling process converting these smaller pieces into nutrients which then sustain neighboring plants. They in turn help support biodiversity by becoming food themselves.
Numerous bird species such as robins and towhees forage in the leaf layer searching for insects and other invertebrates to eat.
Raking up leaves and putting them in the trash could have the unintended consequence of removing some of next year's garden butterflies and moths, many of which are pollinators. Most butterflies and moths overwinter in the landscape as an egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, or adult. In all but the warmest climates, they often use leaf litter for winter cover. Fritillaries and wooly bear caterpillars will tuck themselves into a pile of leaves for protection from cold weather and predators. Some Hairstreaks lay their eggs on fallen oak leaves, which become the first food of the caterpillars when they emerge. Swallowtail butterflies disguise their cocoons and chrysalises as dried leaves, blending in with the “real” leaves.
Bumble bees also rely on leaf litter for protection. At the end of summer, mated queen bumble bees burrow an inch or two into the earth to hibernate for winter. An extra thick layer of leaves is welcome protection from the elements.
All of which makes leaf litter an integral part of a complex web of life.
What You Can Do
Composting leaves is a terrific way to recycle and create a nutrient-rich garden soil amendment at the same time. Some gardeners opt for shredding their fall leaves for use in compost piles. Like people who mulch their lawn leaves with a mower, consider leaving some leaves undisturbed in garden beds and lawn edges. If space allows, you could create a leaf pile, allowing it to break down naturally, or add the leaves gradually to your compost pile over time. Such efforts will keep leaf litter critters safe and allow you to benefit from the rich garden gift that falls from the trees above.
While it is ideal to “leave the leaves” permanently—for the benefits mentioned above—if you do decide you need to clean your garden and remove the leaves in spring, try to wait until later in the season, so as to give the critters that have been protected by fallen leaves over the winter time to emerge and depart.
Some gardeners may be concerned that autumn leaves, matted down by rain or snow, could have a negative impact on their perennials. However, a thick layer of leaves provides additional insulation against chilly weather and protects newly planted perennials from frost which could damage tender roots and shoots. Anyone who has spotted fragile spring seedlings popping up in the woods knows that all but the most fragile of plants will erupt through the leaf litter in spring without trouble.
So, leave the leaves. While you can't perfectly emulate a forest, your garden will be healthier and more diversified, you'll help support a vast array of wildlife, and you'll reduce the strain on landfills.
Denise Godbout-Avant has been a UCCE Stanislaus County Master Gardener since July 2020./h3>/h3>/h3>
Class Title: From Seed to Shining Seed
Where: Stanislaus County Agricultural Center, Harvest Hall breezeway, 3800 Cornucopia Way, Modesto, 95358.
When: Tuesday, October 19, 2021 6:00-7:00 p.m.
Instructor: Heidi Aufdermaur
- Author: Karey Windbiel-Rojas
- Author: Elaine Lander
The CDC health advisory states “Veterinary formulations intended for use in large animals such as horses, sheep, and cattle (e.g., “sheep drench,” injection formulations, and “pour-on” products for cattle) can be highly concentrated and result in overdoses when used by humans. Animal products may also contain inactive ingredients that have not been evaluated for use in humans. People who take inappropriately high doses of ivermectin above FDA-recommended dosing may experience toxic effects.”
Incorrect use of any pesticide can lead to injury, negative health impacts, or severe illness. Be sure to always read and understand the label when using pesticides and only use them where specified on the label. As a reminder, disinfectants are pesticides too, and should be used properly to minimize health risks.
Visit our website for more information on pesticides in homes and landscapes. If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing serious illness due to pesticide exposure, contact the Poison Control hotline at 800-222-1222.
The adult beetles are small (1/8 inch), slender, black beetles with dull yellow wing bands. The larvae are white, short-legged grubs. They are especially attracted to overripe, broken, fermenting, and dried fruits, and are common in orchards, drying sheds, and on fruit trays. The adults lay their eggs on ripe and rotting fruits of all types. They may also infest grapes before they have been completely dried and made into raisins. Fig varieties that have large "eyes" (openings at the blossom ends of fruits) are most affected; fig varieties such as 'Mission' and 'Tina' have small eyes, and are less infested by the beetles.
A complete life cycle of the dried fruit beetle may vary from a minimum of 15 days in the summer to several months in the winter. In winter, both adults and larvae survive in decaying cull fruit of any kind. The pupae generally overwinter in the soil.
Sanitation is the best way of controlling dried fruit beetles. Eliminate potential breeding sites by harvesting ripe fruit promptly and picking up fallen fruit as soon as possible. Keep cull fruit in tight garbage cans or garbage bags until disposed of. If you dry fruit, you should thoroughly clean your drying trays after each use.
You may want to try trapping to reduce dried fruit beetle infestations. To do this, place several overripe peaches in a bucket, then coat the insides of the bucket with 90-weight oil, Tanglefoot, or a similar sticky material. Once the buckets are hanging in the tree, the fermenting peaches attract the beetles, and they become trapped in the sticky material. This method will give you partial control only.
Ed Perry is the emeritus Environmental Horticultural Advisor for University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) in Stanislaus County where he worked for over 30 years.
- Learn tips for saving water in the landscape.
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Water Thrifty Landscaping
Where: Stanislaus County Agricultural Center, Harvest Hall, OUTDOORS. 3800 Cornucopia Way, Modesto, CA 95358
When: Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Time: 6:00-7:30 p.m.
Instructors: Master Gardeners Tim Long and Roxanne Campbell
Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Sign up online at http://ucanr.edu/thrifty/2022 or call Misa at (209) 525-6800 to reserve your space.