|This Month in the Garden
Allowing fallen leaves to remain on the ground acts as a natural mulch, providing insulation for the soil. This layer helps to regulate soil temperature, preventing extreme fluctuations that can be harmful to the roots of plants and trees. As the leaves decompose, they release valuable organic matter and essential nutrients back into the soil, which will in turn help to promote plant growth. On the other side of the discussion, too many compacted leaves can block sunlight and trap excess moisture against your lawn, leading to possible snow mold growth and possible lawn damage come spring. Maintaining a leaf cover of no more than twenty to thirty percent of lawn area is recommended to allow enough light and air to reach the turf while providing the benefits of mulching. According to the USDA, the best solution is to finely chop newly fallen leaves with a mulching mower or a leaf shredder, then return them to garden beds to ensure the health of your plantings. It is important to perform this activity before leaves are on the ground for any length of time to avoid any harm to wildlife. Another option is if you have an out of the way area in your garden, such as behind a barrier of trees, leaves can be relocated to that space to allow nature to take its course.
It is a known fact that besides providing insulation, a layer of leaves can act as a protective barrier, helping to retain moisture of the soil. This can be especially beneficial during the winter months in wooded or mulched areas, under shrubs and around dormant perennials when the ground is prone to both freezing and drying out from winter winds. Keep in mind that while the leaves help to retain moisture, it is best to not have leaves built up around fall or winter blooming perennials, as it could cause lack of sunlight to the plants and encourage disease. Also, removing the browned or mushy foliage of dormant perennials such as Hosta and Peony in fall will help to prevent fungal issues. Note: Such perennials containing seed heads, for example Echinacea and Rudbeckia, can be beneficial for birds to feed on and can be left for winter before cutting back.
Saving Time & Effort:
Removing leaves can be both time consuming and physically demanding. Leaving the leaves and allowing nature to take its course eliminates the need for this labor-intensive chore. This frees up your time to enjoy the beauty of the season, assess the garden and plan away for next spring!
In conclusion, while many prefer the "clean" look of traditional mulches, embracing the idea of leaving fall leaves in your garden offers a wide range of benefits, including moisture conservation, temperature moderation, and addition of nutrients for improved soil health, all while supporting wildlife. Striking a balance by incorporating responsible leaf management practices allows the best of both worlds-a thriving landscape and a sustainable, biodiverse ecosystem.
I hope you enjoyed This Month in the Garden for the month of December. Be sure to stop by on the 1st. and 15th. of each month as I continue to share gardening tips, information and horticultural adventures!