Three Reasons to Avoid Fall Garden Cleanup
Why Leave the Leaves?
The weather dropped into the fifties last night and is having a hard time pushing past sixty today despite a clear, sunny sky. There are few butterflies out. Most butterflies need at least 65 degrees to fly, although I have seen a few Cabbage Whites and one lone Orange Sulphur today. Monarchs on their way south to Mexico could be flying today, just not in my neighborhood.
It is a beautiful fall day and I could go out and start my fall clean up except I don’t have much to do beyond pulling a few clumps of Japanese Stiltgrass that have already dropped their pesky seeds making their removal more cosmetic than preventative. My fall is quiet and peaceful because I only rake leaves off of paths and patios, and next to the house and garage where they would turn into a soggy mess if left to their own decomposing desires.
“Leave the leaves” is a fall clean-up motto gardeners now regularly hear, particularly those interested in butterflies and other insects. Each year I expand my flower borders and add more shrubs which decreases the lawn-like area in my yard so there is plenty of room for fallen leaves to be tucked in among the overwintering perennials and woody plants. But what good does it do?
1. Help Hibernating Pollinators
The simple answer is that leaf litter is important for overwintering insects. Leaving leaves on the ground or gently raking them off of paths onto planting beds will permit insects that spend the winter in a state of hibernation (technically called “diapause”) to remain in our gardens near the host plants they might need in the spring once plant growth resumes. Blowing leaves around with a high velocity leaf blower will strand overwintering insects far from their required foods and, most likely, expose them to weather that will kill them.
2. Free Mulch!
If planting beds are not stuffed cheek to jowl with flower, shrubs, and grasses, then mulch is usually distributed to cover the bare soil. Mulch suppresses weeds, protects the soil from erosion, and increases water retention while also providing a unifying visual backdrop for a planting bed. Rather than buying bags of shredded bark, consider fallen leaves. Leave the leaves where they fall in your planting beds. Fallen leaves produce an abundance of organic matter which feeds a wide variety of soil microorganisms and insects. Decomposition is a vital part the food webs in garden environments and as fall leaves break down they play an essential part in building healthy soils. A garden soil enhanced with leaf litter will have increased water holding capacity and more organic matter. Rather than buy bags of compost or topsoil, leave the leaves and create your own mulch that will decompose into compost/topsoil.
3. Less Noise
Called The Devil’s Hairdryer by some, also known as leaf blowers. Many towns across the country are working with their citizens to decrease, or at least manage, the disturbance created spring through fall by leaf blowers. Quiet Communities provides education and alternative strategies to replace leaf blowers with low noise, zero emissions landscape practices. Even small changes can make a difference!