Autumn is the time of falling leaves. They are colorful, fun to play in, beautiful for capturing in an Instagramable post, but also so messy to clean up.
Raking leaves and then tossing them in the trash can be a real chore during the fall months. However, experts say that leaving the leaves alone can actually be beneficial for your soil’s health, and therefore can nourish your plants in the process, according to NPR.
Additionally, not only is this good for soil and plant health, but it can also help avoid stuff going to local landfills.
The health of the soil is a pretty important environmental factor, however, it’s not as widely known as it should be. Healthy soil helps to promote climate resistance and microbe diversity, as well as healthy plants. In order to help that soil maintain its health, leaving leaves to decompose can have major positive effects. Leaves have nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in them, and in a natural environment, these vital nutrients are returned to the soil through decomposition.
A professor in landscape horticulture at the University of Delaware, Susan Barton, shared with NPR, “Those nutrients are being returned to the soil. But probably even more important than that, it’s the organic matter. It’s the fact that you’ve got this tissue that then eventually decomposes and improves the soil health.”
Not only is this great for the soil health, but this decomposition matter also is a little ecosystem of its own, as it often houses bugs such as slugs and even some small animals – all beings that are critical to the environment.
In order to get in on this healthy mix for the environment, it is cautioned that you do not bag up your leaves. Instead, either collect them inside a compost bin, or run them over with a lawn mower in order to shred them into smaller pieces. Of course, do be careful not to leave too thick of a layer of leaves on grass as this could potentially kill your grass.
As Barton explains about what you want for leaves, “Ideally, you want to let them decompose a little bit and they’ll form a very nice mulch. Instead of going out and buying hardwood bark mulch, which is expensive, you can have a better mulch that’s free.”
Another reason not to bag your leaves is that they end up in landfills. While you might be thinking, “Who cares? They’re leaves they’ll break down anyways,” that is not entirely true. They need oxygen in order to break down and decompose naturally. However, when leaves are trapped inside a plastic bag, then they break down they release methane – something that is bad for the environment. If you live in the city, some collection services are provided, so you might want to check your town or city website.
Barton says, “We want to think about those leaves as being a resource. And when you think about sustainable landscaping, well, one of the things we say about sustainable landscaping is let natural processes happen. And that’s a natural process.”