After witnessing the great New England leaf removal of the past few weeks, I’m struck by what a valuable resource we are taking away from a soil that sorely needs organic matter. Trees send their roots deep into the soil in search of minerals and nutrients to form leaves, a great source of organic matter.
We know from studies how effective the mulching of leaves into the lawn is in promoting early spring green up and reducing weed pressure. Of course this can be done for only so long in the fall before the leaves overwhelm the lawnmower. I’d like to try piling leaves up in the fall and mulching them into the lawn in the spring, when the grass is growing vigorously.
Most leaves probably go to composting or mulch producing facilities that sell them back to the homeowner in a different form. On a couple of properties, we shred the leaves in the fall and spread them back on the beds as mulch. For a finer look, we let the leaves marinate over the winter and shred them in the spring. The process is pretty labor intensive, but costly mulch doesn’t have to be spread in the spring. You are not removing a natural resource from your property, but putting it back in the soil from which they came. It is important that the leaves are shredded or they can form a dense mat that prevents the flow of air and water to the soil. A lawn mower or leaf shredder does the job.
Looking at the leaf covered forest floor and seeing the trees thriving, with no input from us, shows the importance of leaves in building soil and promoting life. When I first got a microscope, the leaf litter in my backyard was the finest medium for viewing soil organisms. Decomposing leaves form humus and improve soil structure in clay or sandy soils. Leaves are a great local resource to improve soil health, reduce weeds and retain moisture. They are the gift that keeps on giving.