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Neighbors of DuPage

What to Do With Your Fall Leaves According to Experts at Morton Arboretum

Oct 02, 2018 12:24PM ● By Hannah Ott

The leaves are falling! It’s time to start the arduous process of raking and bagging leaves or hiring someone for “yard work.” But what if you kept the leaves in your yard? You’d actually have healthier soil and happier plants.

Trees and other plants evolved to live in soil that is continually enriched by the leaves and other plant matters that die every year, according to Meghan Midgley, soil scientist at Morton Arboretum - LISLE, IL. Fungi, bacteria, worms, and other organisms digest dead leaves and turn them into nutrients that are great for your soil and plants. By raking away your leaves, your lawn is missing out on this beneficial process.

Here are some tips for being smart about fall leaf cleanup:

·         Use the leaves for mulch on perennial beds or around trees and shrubs. Just rake them where you want them to go. Most of them will be gone by spring—evidence that the decomposers in your soil have been hard at work. 

·         Add leaves to the compost pile, where they are an important carbon source. The most efficient compost pile will have more brown than green. It should have far more leaves and other carbon-rich materials than nitrogen-rich materials such as green plants and vegetable scraps. 

·         Shred leaves into small pieces and they will break down faster in the compost and won’t blow around as mulch. It’s easy: Just rake them into a pile on the lawn and run the lawnmower over the pile a couple of times.

·         Rake whole leaves off the lawn so they don’t form a mat over the grass all winter. It’s fine to scatter some shredded leaves there; in fact, they’re good food for the microorganisms that live in the soil and nurture the grass. 

·         If you don’t have a compost pile, it’s easy to start and leaves make autumn the perfect time to begin. Rake up a big pile of leaves and mix them with green materials—end-of-season annuals from your pots, the remains of the vegetable garden, fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen. Stir in a shovel-full of soil from the garden to provide the fungi and microbes. Water the pile occasionally to encourage microbial activity.

Tree and plant questions? Turn to the experts in our Plant Clinic