by Melody Kendall
To rake leaves or not to rake leaves……. That is the question
Over the years we have limited any additions in our landscape plants to deciduous trees. That way we have a week of spring cleanup and a week of fall cleanup leaving us lots of time to just enjoy. But, every fall we still have to get out the rakes and the obnoxious cordless leaf blower and get busy raking the leaves from our beautiful Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum) and Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis).
Raking the leaves has always been ‘de rigueur' in my lifetime. As a child I remember raking up the leaves into piles and jumping in them. It was fun, crunchy and resulted in an explosion of flying leaves and laughter. My dad was not always enthusiastic about the explosion part, as he had to re-rake, but without fail he would join in the laughter. As an adult I can sympathize with my dad. Raking is good for cardio but, after about an hour, lacks in the ‘fun' department.
When I heard that there was a school of thought about leaving the leaves (no pun intended) in place I thought reading about this research was warranted.
Mother nature is amazing in so many ways and fallen leaves are no exception. When leaves fall they provide a home for multiple wildlife populations, including salamanders, earthworms and millipedes. Also, many butterfly and moth species overwinter here as well. Think about all the wonderful beneficial insects you are raking up along with worms and caterpillars that will feed the birds in the spring. Just the act of collecting the leaves has the possibility of effectively reducing your beneficial insect and bird population at each swipe of the rake.
What about the soil under the leaves? The National Resource Conservation Service stated in one of their publications: ‘If you're trying to make your soil healthier, you shouldn't see it often'. This publication goes on to say that ‘healthy soil should be covered by plants, their residues or a combination of the two'. Soil is a living entity full of living organisms which need food and cover to thrive. Also, leaves provide a natural mulch that will help curtail weeds, prevent erosion and when they break down provide food for the organisms living in it. If you don't like the ‘matted' appearance of leaves left in place chop them up and then redistribute them. Think of how much money could be saved because commercial mulch wouldn't have to be purchased.
Lawns are not fond of the heavy leaf cover though, and tend to become smothered if the leaves are left in place – another reason to reduce or remove your lawn. If that isn't an option rake the leaves and redistribute them on the adjoining garden beds and around the landscape. Raking your lawn will have the added benefit of helping to dethatch your lawn, too.
Composting with fall leaves is good for either beginning a compost pile or enriching your existing compost bins as there are both green and brown components in them, balancing nutrient content.
From now on we won't be raking all the leaves from our landscape; we found the no-rake information to be very compelling. We really want the wildlife population benefits, the soil enrichment properties and the mulch coverage that results from leaving the leaf debris in place. Moving the leaves from the lawn to the garden beds will continue to give us the cardio and satisfy the ‘neatness' factor. Plus, we can still make piles to jump in before distribution. A ‘win-win' all the way around.
Cal Poly select a tree search
Chinese Pistache https://selectree.calpoly.edu/tree-detail/pistacia-chinensis
Sierra Club magazine-composting with leaves
National Wildlife Federation https://blog.nwf.org/2014/11/what-to-do-with-fallen-leaves/
USDA-National Resources Conservation Service
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Photo credit: Mel Kendall/span>