Leaving it

After Tropical Storm Irene stripped the color from so many trees around here back in August I was pretty pessimistically convinced that fall color would be lousy this year. And maybe that’s why it has seemed especially spectacular. There’s less of it to be sure, and it was more sudden and fast passing than usual (maybe because there’s less of it) but the reds seem deeper and the yellows and oranges more intensely glow-y.

New England fall is a gift. The leaves from our deciduous forests and gardens, colorful or not, are a huge bonus. I still can’t believe anyone would bag them up as garbage. I love the look of freshly fallen leaves carpeting the ground, and the renewable resource dust-to-dust cycle of nature really appeals to my inner lazy gardener. But of course there’s nothing lazy about leaving the leaves. Almost all of us who keep them from the landfill, at least pick them up and put them back down someplace else. It’s how we participate in the cycle.

At home I rake what few leaves fall in my yard straight into my garden beds. This gives critters like spiders, bumblebees and butterflies a place to overwinter. The plants don’t mind and aren’t smothered. (No oaks leaves fall in my yard – they have more of a tendency than any other to form an impenetrable mat.) Come spring, all I need to do is make sure the crowns of plants peek out. Other gardeners also rake extra leaves into piles. Gail says that by spring her pile of whole leaves is as soft and half decomposed as if it had been shredded – perfect for mulching her beds with. Still others mow the leaves. Leaves left in a thin enough layer that the grass still shows will provide nutrients for a healthier lawn. If the clippings are bagged, they may be used as nitrogen-rich mulch in the garden.

Here we do a bit of all three. Fred and Dan make a first pass over the property with mowers and graciously dump the clippings in the vegetable bed. They also blow the leaves off of the lawns and vacuum them up truckload by truckload. This year we realized that the vacuum did a good enough job of shredding the leaves that we saved several days and gallons of gas not passing them through the leaf shredder. The pile has already settled quite a bit and Gail and I have mulched all of the Display Garden beds to save weeding them later.

I know I ask this every year, but please refresh my memory – what do you do with your leaves?

(click on pictures for larger view)