By: Rosslyn MacKay and Dawn Slack
It’s the first week of autumn and deciduous tree leaves are starting to turn yellow, orange and red. Before we know it, our lawns will go from a lush shade of green to a sea of vibrant fire colors. The end of summer signifies the halt of plant growth and seed development emerges.
This is quite possibly my favorite season. The days are still warm and mainly sunny, the air is cooler and the nights are chilly which makes sleeping optimal.
As autumn advances and leaf litter accumulates on your lawn, many people rake them up into those giant paper bags and place them by the curb for garbage removal. Many people feel that leaving the leaves in place makes their property look unkept. This is a funny way of thinking and trust me, I’m also guilty of this mindset. I should correct that last sentence in saying that I was guilty of that mindset.
Here comes the learning opportunity!! There are better options that our precious environment will thank you for choosing.
For those who dare to leave the leaves
How awesome is this?!! Trees take trace elements (calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium) out of the soil every year to grow. As indicated in Using Autumn’s Bounty by E. Vinje, tree leaves can hold 50 – 80 % of those nutrients, then fall to the ground and distribute the nutrients back to the soil for next year!!
- Leaves regulate soil temperature by holding moisture in during really hot days which prevents drying, cracking and erosion of the soils as well as providing shelter for worms and bugs which feed many species of birds and mammals.
- Leaves create path disturbances and slow rainwater as it flows over land, enabling more time for it to infiltrate into the ground
- Leaves create a natural forest floor which gradually breaks down and feeds the forest
- Leaves create food for earthworms which promotes aeration and soil health
For those who want to leave the leaves, but aren’t quite so sure they can adjust to it
- Mow the leaves and leave them. You may prefer the chopped-up look compared to the matts of fallen leaves. Chopping the leaves gives them greater surface area for rainwater to percolate through, enabling more minerals to leach out of the leaves in turn feeding the soil next year
- You can also cut the leaves with your lawn mower and then rake them up off your lawn. Sprinkle the chopped leaves on your perennial flower garden beds or put them into your vegetable garden after fall harvest.
For those of you who don’t have many trees on your property
- Leaf litter is limited so ask a neighbour who has tons of leaves if you can have some of theirs! They will be happy for you to rake them off their lawn.
- Spread your knowledge to family and friends of this very environmentally important source of protection and nutrients for soil health.
In addition to leaving the leaf litter, Helping Nature Heal prescribes our methods for winter protection to the properties we steward. Protecting plants in the fall can help prevent frozen roots, freeze/thaw damage, winter scald, and plant death.
Our winter protection includes strategic composting methods by placing hay bales, leaves, and brush around your plants.
Why is winter protection beneficial to your landscape?
- Leaving layers of leaves, straw and brush feed the soil food web.
- Ensures root systems and soil connection remain healthy and strong.
- Mitigates the impacts of freeze/thaw, which often causes the plants to upheave from the soil and to die back or cause damage to their root systems.
- Provides overwintering habitat for beneficial insects, birds, and other wildlife.
- Moisture loss. Water loss above ground in the winter months is mainly due to wind. Our strategic composting methods trap the snow and rain at the root zone to ensure your plants stay hydrated!
How to Help Animals in Winter?
Critters, birds, and beneficial insects require natural and eco-friendly habitats. In the winter, the most stable temperatures are at ground level. Ground critters like to make their hibernation nests where there are dry leaves. Their ideal hibernation spaces are along hedgerows, under log piles, at the edges of fields and woodlands, or under piles of brush. This again means we must co-create with nature, and dare I say it… give up our ideals of a perfectly tidy garden.
To help wildlife through the cold winter months, here are some tips for helping wildlife overwinter
- Make bundles of plant stems and leaves.
- Create brush walls and piles along woodland and meadow edges. They provide shelter and maybe even nesting sites for some birds.
- Plant native species that have seeds and berries. They provide sustenance for birds when other food sources disappear and don’t trim them back until spring.
- The more space allocated for native species over lawns, the better!
- Include dead wood and logs, which are the perfect homes for invertebrates and beneficial fungi.
To get our help with winter protection on your property, click here or give our office a call at (902) 543-7416!