The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold
—from the song Autumn Leaves
Recently we had a post about how “messy backyards” help wildlife. Since I wrote that post, I came across a wonderful article, “Leaf litter is an Environmental Windfall,” by Master Gardener Vera Strader. She explains why autumn leaves are a boon to wildlife and help enrich the soil.
Leaves provide shelter to insects such as earthworms, pillbugs, millipedes, which provides food for toads, frogs, and other small animals. Birds require protein from insects to feed their young. Leaf litter also fosters living soils with huge numbers of soil bacteria, fungi, and nematodes. Strader writes that, “leaves provide a down-like comforter for small animals.”
This past summer, I saw this process occur in my own backyard. I had to clip back all the grape vines on our building’s fire escape for safety reasons. I didn’t get around to getting rid of the pile of leaves and vines until a month or two later. I went to bag the material to throw it away and found dozens of earthworms under it. So I left the pile for the earthworms. Next spring these earthworms will go in my garden (and I’m sure will be a nice snack for some birds, too).
Strader offers practical tips for dealing with fallen leaves. Here are a few:
- Blow or rake leaves to an unused part of the yard or compost the leaves. (Note: I recently received the Gardener’s Supply catalog, which has a simple wire box that can be used for composting leaves).
- Keep litter and mulch away from plant stems and stalks to prevent crown rot.
- On the lawn, use a mulching or rotary lawnmower to shred the leaves, then leave them on the grass to nourish it.
- Dispose of leaf litter below diseased plants, such as roses, peonies, irises, etc
- Avoid sending leaves to landfill. Yard waste consumes a huge amount of space and creates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
As Strader writes, “Leave the leaves to save time and money, enrich soil, help sustain wildlife, and benefit water and air quality. Mother Nature will thank you.”
By the way, we’ve received some great photos of wildlife-friendly backyards. Just click on the gallery on the right of this post for the wildlife backyard gallery. Feel free to send in photos of your backyard and we’ll post them in our gallery.