Fall has arrived in Delaware! Leaves are starting to color and will soon be falling to the ground. Just as we get a reprieve from grass cutting, it is time to deal with fall leaves. But, can’t we just let the leaves sit where they fall, that’s what happens in nature, right? No one rakes up the leaves in a forest. True, but no one is trying to grow a non-native ground cover in the forest either. Turfgrass, the primary component of most lawns requires light to grow and in fact to simply survive. It requires about 4 hours of light per day. So when leaves fall from trees and sit on the lawn, they exclude light, eventually killing the lawn below. How do we manage those fallen leaves? One solution is to have less lawn in your landscape. Only use lawn where you need a path, gathering space or play area. The rest of your landscape can become something else, like a meadow, a forest or a landscape bed. There is no need to rake leaves in a meadow – not too many fall there because a meadow is mostly tall grasses, rather than trees. Leaves that fall in the woods or in a landscape bed can be allowed to simply stay where they fall and provide mulch for the plants in the bed or woods. Depending on the ground cover in your landscape bed and the size of the leaves, you may need to rake some of those leaves, chop them up in your mower and spread them back on the bed. A few more steps, but the result is great natural mulch that sifts down through the ground cover.
So how about the remaining lawn? You have several choices. The easiest option is to keep mowing your lawn, even though the grass isn’t growing much. If you have a mulching mower, you can simply let the chopped up leaves fall right back into the lawn where they will decompose and provide nutrients for your lawn to use as it grows roots in late fall and early winter. Some of those decomposed leaves will also provide nutrients for spring green up next year. If you would rather bag your chopped leaves, you can use them as mulch on landscape beds or vegetable gardens that you are putting to rest for the winter. Leaf blowers can be used to blow leaves off the lawn and into beds but they won’t be chopped up so be careful not to smother ground covers. Another option, if you like lots of equipment, is to buy a leaf vacuum, which will vacuum the leaves, chop them finely and produce mulch that is excellent for placing around delicate plants and ground covers. Whatever you do, DON’T let the valuable resource of your trees’ leaves exit your property. Reuse them somewhere in the landscape. Sustainable landscaping is all about letting biological processes occur naturally in the landscape. Leaf fall, decomposition and recycling of nutrients back to the soil (and ultimately to the plants growing in that soil) is one of those important natural biological processes.