Leave those fall leaves for a nicer lawn and a healthier ecosystem – Greater Greater Washington

Autumn in DC by Vladimer Shioshvili licensed under Creative Commons.

This region loves its trees.

Where there are trees, there are leaves.

Leaves are beautiful, but leaves fall.

And when they fall, leaves are raked or worse blown by noisy leaf blowers (except in the District, which has banned those infernal contraptions).

Meanwhile, the Washington region loves other things, like fireflies and butterflies. And here we have a great chance to save ourselves work, reduce noise, save money (if you hire others to do the work for you), and help the things we love.

Leave those leaves on the ground. Yes, get them off the sidewalk and steps, where they are slippery when wet. Get them away from the door so you wont track them into the house. Get them off the storm drains. Otherwise, let them be.

Some of our butterflies overwinter right here in our yards, some hibernating as adults, some as cocoons, and some as caterpillars. They may burrow into the soil or tuck into crevices, under or in between logs or underneath loose bark on trees. Leaf litter provides them with much-needed protection from the elements. Give them a nice warm blanket for the winter and enjoy the results next summer.

If you'd like to help the butterflies, leave the leaves. Image by Jessica licensed under Creative Commons.

Other invertebrates love the leaf cover, too. Spiders, snails, worms, beetles, millipedes, and other insects all benefit from the winter protection. Those insects then feed the birds and bats that are in steep decline and can use every bit of help we can give them.

But wont leaves kill the lawn, you may ask? Thats an old myth. Research done at Michigan State University from 2003 to 2009 used mulched leaf litter on the campus lawns. The researchers found that that leaving the leaves on your yard in such a manner not only does your lawn no harm, but it can actually impede weed growth.

So long as you are mowing the lawn, the leaves get mulched in the bargain. Both the grass clippings which help the chopped-up leaves to decay and the leaves will actually benefit the lawn. Of course, your lawn guy disputes that. Leaving the leaves cuts into his revenue. Thank the lawn guy for his advice. Leave the leaves.

To mulch or not to mulch

A light layer of whole leaves (under two inches in depth) wont hurt the lawn, but if you want to remove them, rake them under the shrubs. Thats actually better than mulching the leaves because mulching can destroy butterfly eggs, caterpillars, and larvae that have taken shelter.

If you do mulch the leaves, however, try using leaf mulch instead of bark mulch for weed suppression in your garden beds. The native ground-nesting bees cant get through bark mulch to enter and exit their underground burrows but do just fine with leaf mulch.

Whole leaves will not hurt perennials. A thick layer of leaves provides insulation against bitter cold weather and can protect newly planted perennials when frost-heave may expose tender roots. Walk through Rock Creek or any nearby park in the spring, where leaves have piled up year after year, and look at the wildflowers sending stems and flowers above those piles of leaves.

If you are lucky enough to have lots of lots of big trees and a massive number of leaves, another option is to put up a simple wire compost basket using wire fencing or just buy one. Pile the leaves inside and walk away. In the late spring, the leaves will have transformed into leaf compost, also known as leaf mold. Although it adds few nutrients to the soil, it is great for amending compacted soil or soil with a high clay content.

Need more reasons? Its trendy, requires less yard work, and allows more football-watching time. Plus there will be fewer leafblowers! A win for all!

Ellen Paul lives to bird and birds to live, but, along the way, she also notices the insects, mammals, and plants that surround us. She works to protect the habitat for all our native flora and fauna. Shes also on a mission to eradicate all the vinca, English ivy, lesser celandine, and other non-natives within a five-mile radius of her home.

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Leave those fall leaves for a nicer lawn and a healthier ecosystem - Greater Greater Washington

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