Frost has left your yard looking kind of dead. You hear the neighbors blowing leaves and see them busily tidying up—you feel guilty that you’re going out for a hike or sitting inside dreaming of next spring rather than doing yardwork. But you may be doing your landscape a favor by doing less!
What to do with leaves?
Do you really need to rake up and dispose of leaves?
Leave them! In many cases, you can simply leave them where they fall: in wooded areas, under trees or shrubs, on your vegetable garden, flower beds—in fact, almost anywhere but a lawn, leaves can act as a mulch and eventual soil enrichment.
• Move them where needed. If the leaves are constantly blowing back onto your lawn, or are matting and smothering groundcovers or small plants, move them to other areas where they can break down in peace.
• Shred them with a shredder or lawn mower. Shredding will help leaves stay in place and break down more quickly. Using a mulching mower on your lawn before leaves get too deep will save you from raking there, too.
• The bottom line: If you must rake, save your leaves in a compost pile or in an unobtrusive area of your yard to spread back on your planting beds once they break down.
What about leaf blowers?
If you must move leaves around, consider that these concerns—Electric or gas blowers may:
• Harm beneficial insects, small animals and their habitats
• Damage plants and shrubs
• Create noise and air pollution.
What about pruning?
With the exception of diseased or damaged wood, leave pruning shrubs and trees until late winter—or immediately after bloom in the case of trees and shrubs that bloom on “old” wood.
What about annual and perennial plants?
Although you may be tempted to cut everything back in the interest of neatness, consider leaving dried seed heads for winter interest, self-sowing, and feeding the birds—at least until the seeds are gone or stems start to break down. One exception, of course, is if plants seed so aggressively that they become nuisances. Consider removing such plants and replacing them with more desirable alternatives.
Enjoy your break from yardwork!
Take time to reflect on what is working well in your garden and what needs rethinking. How does your yard look at this time of year? Does it have good “bones” that make it attractive in all four seasons, or do you need to consider adding some new plants that look good in fall or winter? Do you need to remove failing or overgrown trees or shrubs? Is there too much lawn? You still have time to plant this fall—until the ground is frozen—or start planning for next year!
Article by Debbie Green, Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer
For more information about fall planting: