Death. Taxes. Autumn leaves | Zip06.com
By By Kathy Connolly â¢ 09/29/2021 7:00 AM EST
Benjamin Franklin once wrote that nothing is inevitable except death and taxes. As a longtime Northeastern dweller, I would add the fallen leaves to her list. Sadly, many people look forward to October leaves about as much as death and taxes.
Is there another way to look at the leaves? I think so, and the others apparently too.
For example, this year the Florence Griswold Museum at Old Lyme will refresh flower beds and cover perennials on the Robert F. Schumann Artists’ Trail with cut leaves as mulch and, in some cases, whole leaves.
Trail keeper Petie Reed, owner of Perennial Harmony Land Care, says, âThe museum aims for an ecological landscape. Leaf mulch is a natural complement to this goal.
Reed says she’s been switching her other clients to leaf mulch for several years.
The state has encouraged municipal leaf composting since the late 1980s. Today, just over half of cities in the state have municipal leaf composting. Another ten percent of cities offer residents the option of depositing their leaves at private composting facilities.
Yet at Old Saybrook, First Selectman Carl Fortuna says, âAlthough we do offer a leaf dump for residents in the fall, the town itself mows the leaves that fall on its properties. We encourage our residents to do the same.
In addition, organizations such as the Xerces Society, Healthy Yards and the Bedford, New York, 2030 Coalition have implemented âleave the leavesâ campaigns on their websites and social media.
Why? Simply, the leaves are good for landscapes. And the energy required to collect, transport and manage leaf waste at municipal facilities is bad for the environment. There are many good reasons why it’s best to keep leaves at home.
A healthy landscape
Leaves cut with the mulch decompose within a few weeks by adding nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to the soil. These are the same nutrients you might otherwise buy in plastic bags, labeled “NPK”. The leaves also contain micronutrients that help plants grow. There is little or no need to buy special products. (See the Rutger University Extension fact sheet on leaf nutrients in the list of resources below.)
Leaves cut with mulch as well as whole leaves are a perfect substitute for bark mulch around shrubs and trees, and on flower beds. Like bark mulch, they moderate the temperature of the soil. Like bark mulch, the leaves retain moisture around the roots of plants.
Compared to bark mulch, rotting leaves provide a wider range of nutrients. Additionally, the leaves allow water and air to reach the soil surface and filter downward more effectively than bark mulch.
Leaf mulch around trees and shrubs becomes soil organic matter within a year, making it a substitute for bagged compost and preventing the buildup of empty plastic bags.
If you live in a green area, you may have “leftovers” even after mowing the mulch. Leaves are a great addition to household compost heaps. (Find two informative books listed in Resources, as well as a source of compost containers.)
Bonus point: When you keep all the leaves in place, the paper leaf collection bags become obsolete.
Many birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and mammals depend on leaf litter for food and cover in wooded areas. Wintering birds feed on insects and seeds in the leaves. Moths and butterflies pupate in the leaves. Firefly larvae live in leaf litter for up to two years before emerging and delight us with their bioluminescent displays. Some native ground-nesting bees make their winter nests near and under leaf litter, as do many turtles, toads, salamanders, and snails.
Therefore, avoid cleaning the floor of wooded areas. Also, avoid stacking leaves from other sites in the woods. Excess leaves disrupt natural processes.
Streams, ponds and rivers
The presence of leaves in water bodies is complicated. Too many leaves in the water can create phosphorus overload and lead to algae blooms. This condition occurs when the leaves enter municipal stormwater systems. (See the Wisconsin Clean Lakes Alliance below.)
On the other hand, the natural fall of leaves from trees surrounding water bodies is essential for aquatic life. In fact, you should never clearcut to the edge of a pond, because trees and shrubs shade and cool the water in summer. Fall leaves feed aquatic life, which in turn feeds fish.
In his insightful article, “Leaves are a feast for stream life,” writes freshwater ecologist Dr. David Strayer: Fly larvae and crustaceans … All these river bugs … feed the trout and other river fish that are close to our hearts.
Preferences, practical aspects
If the leaves are so good, why are so many people giving them the green light? The root cause, in most cases, is a concern for the health of the lawn grasses. When whole leaves cover lawns for an entire winter, they damage the grass. Additionally, stray leaves can make neighbors unhappy.
Fortunately, mowing with mulch solves these problems. If you don’t have access to a mulch mower yet, check out the helpful article on LeaveLeavesAlone.org. Also check out Consumer Reports’ ratings on mower mulching characteristics. (See resources below.)
Then there are security issues.
Ticks are a serious problem. Tick-borne diseases have increased over the past 30 years, and it is a fact that ticks tend to be more numerous in leaf litter. Fortunately, we can solve this problem with monthly tick treatments for pets and appropriate clothes treated with permethrin and tick repellents for ourselves. (See the article on clothing citation below.)
Additionally, wet leaves can be a safety concern on sidewalks and roads, especially after frost. They must be removed, but not necessarily to municipal leaf dumps. It is more energy efficient to keep leaves close to where they fall, on flower beds, vegetated roadsides, or at yard composting sites.
Sheets well used are like money found and time found. Check out the resource list for ideas to get you started. It’s an old clichÃ©, but still valid: there is no time like the present to turn a new leaf.
Resources for managing fall leaves
â¢ View the Xerces Society campaign by entering #LeavetheLeaves in a browser.
â¢ See the Leave Leaves Alone campaign: LeaveLeavesAlone.org.
â¢ Composting books: Let it Rot by Stu Campbell and The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin.
â¢ For a wide choice of compost bins: www.gardeners.com/buy/outdoor-living/composting
â¢ Consumer Reports mulching mower reviews: www.consumerreports.org/lawn-mowers -and-tractors / best-and-worst-walk-behind-lawn-mowers-a8383078097 /
â¢ âLeaves are a feast for Stream Life,â Dr David Strayer, Freshwater Ecologist, www.caryinstitute.org/news-insights/feature/leaves-are-feast-stream-life
â¢ Tick protection with permethrin treated clothing at Zip06: www.zip06.com/living/20201217/how-to-leave-those-ticks-in-the-winter-woodlands
â¢ Rutgers University Fact Sheet on Nutrients in Leaves: Sustainable-farming.rutgers.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Municipal_Leaves_Plant_Nutrients_Available_FS824_1998.pdf
Kathy Connolly keeps all the leaves that fall around her house. See her blog or join her at www.SpeakingofLandscapes.com.