By Debbie Roland, Master Gardener
We’ve had our first freeze and the leaves are falling. Should you rake them or not? You’ll be glad to know that scientists recommend that you don’t rake them. The National Wildlife Federation states “The leaf layer is its own mini ecosystem!” Leaving them to compost will benefit wildlife and the yard since they form a natural organic carpet over the surface.
Leaves provide a natural habitat for butterflies, box turtles, earthworms and others. They provide a place for insects to feed and lay eggs who in turn will be your friends during the growing season.
The leaves provide mulch that can be tilled into the soil to add nutrients and help regulate the moisture. By adding them in the Fall there is sufficient time for them to decompose prior to planting in the Spring. As a bonus, earthworms will thrive just below the leaves.
According to the EPA 28% of household waste is food and yard trimmings. Not sending leaves to the landfill can help prevent waste and reduce our carbon footprint.
However, your Homeowners Association may require you to rake them. If they do, remember that they are great mulch and hold in moisture, prevent weeds and compaction and help regulate soil temperature. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension recommends 3-6 inches of leaves around trees and shrubs, 2-3 inches for flower beds and a thick layer for weed prevention in the walkways of gardens. Over time they provide slow release nutrients.
If you don’t have many leaves, the most efficient way to manage them is to leave them on the yard. Simply run the mulching mower (a regular mower will also work) over the leaves which causes faster decomposition and keeps them from blowing away in the West Texas wind.
Keeping your leaves at home saves fuel used during trash pickup and space in the landfill. Your Spring yard and garden will thank you.