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Stop! Don’t rake those leaves!

Updated: Feb 17, 2022

Hi, it’s me again. Your friendly neighborhood yard specialist. Here with some more unconventional advice to make your yard greener and friendlier to your neighbors of all shapes and sizes and fur color.

This summer, I mentioned some strategies to make your yard a happier place for living creatures, including planting a pollinator garden and replanting your lawn in clover instead of grass. Now that it’s fall, it’s time to talk leaves! Ah, leaves! Those wonderful crunchy piles of happiness…

According the the EPA, 10.5 million tons of yard trimmings went to landfills last year, meaning all those leaves are rotting away in plastic bags, making methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

While our country is getting better at turning leaves and trimmings into compost (check out the above EPA site), why give away all those valuable leaves when you can use them yourself?! Not only are leaves a natural fertilizer for your yard, but they can also be a great addition to your garden and your compost pile. Also, if you just – gasp – leave them be, they will provide valuable habitat for lots of native insects and other creatures and suppress weeds at the same time. How do you like them… leaves?

So, how do you leave the leaves without turning your yard into an eyesore (if you care about that sort of thing)?

STRATEGY ONE: Become a “mullet gardener”. I learned this wonderful term from Donna Miller of Petals in the Pines. Basically, she suggests keeping your front yard clean and tidy and letting your back yard be a habitat for nature (business in the front, party in the back!). In the case of leaves, you would rake the front yard and transport the leaves into a pile in the back. In the pile, insects can make their homes, feed birds, and become butterflies.

STRATEGY TWO: Use leaves as mulch. If you’re not ready to commit to a mullet garden, you can rake the leaves from your lawn and put them under your existing trees and shrubs and around your garden plants. There they will suppress weeds and provide nutrients to your plants and a home to insects and other small creatures while they break down. If you have such a thing, you should run them through a chipper or lawn mower first, to break them down. But I never do and it works out just fine.

STRATEGY THREE: Compost leaves.

If you can’t even bring yourself to use the leaves as a mulch, you can add them to your compost pile so they will turn into rich compost you can add to your garden once they’ve broken down and look less leaf-like. Leaves add a lot of carbon to the compost pile and are good to counteract kitchen waste or fresh garden weedings. We actually fill a bunch of burlap sacks with leaves each fall to use throughout the year when we need some more “brown” for our pile.

So, there you have it, friends! All you have to do is – nothing – to help the Earth this fall. No raking, no bagging, no lugging heavy, wet bags. Just let the leaves be leaves. They are part of the natural cycle here in New Hampshire.

– Hannah

Now is also an excellent time to plant some milkweed! And garlic!

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