Yard Clean-up: What to do with those leaves

Posted on October 5, 2023

https://gardening.org/how-to-maintain-your-asparagus-bed/Fall has been beautiful so far (okay, it’s no 2022 Fall, but it’s still pretty nice), and many of us have either started to clean-up our yards and gardens for the winter or will start, soon. One question that comes to us from Calgarians is what to do with the leaves in their yards. 

To Rake or not to Rake, That is the Question

Raking leaves can be a lot of fun. Making piles and jumping in them is a fall activity many Canadians enjoy. Leaves can also be great stuffing for those Halloween ​​​​​​​lawn bags or to make a scarecrow using old clothes​​​​​​​​​​​​​​. But they can also be a lot of work, and work that may not be necessary. So, before you spend time raking and bagging (remember, only paper or certified compostable bags can go into the organics bin with the leaves), consider a few other ideas, including leaving them right where they are.  ​​​​​​​

Coverage for winterizing plants: If you have a garden that includes strawberries, asparagus, garlic, or some perennials (not all perennials need a protective layer), leaves are a great way to help protect and provide natural mulch to enrich the soil. Cover with a couple inches of shredded leaves in the fall and by the time you are ready to start spring clean-up, much of it will be composted into the dirt. What is still left can be dug in around the plants to finish breaking down.  

Create a winter hotel for beneficial bugs: Bugs like ladybugs and some solitary bee species will snuggle up amongst the layers of leaves and other dried plant stalks for a long winters nap. These spaces are also a great place for the larva or eggs of other beneficial insects to over-winter and be ready to help fight pests the next spring. This is why I don’t clean out the dead foliage from my perennials until later spring (okay, you caught me, I do it for the bugs and for my winter crafts), and even then, instead of adding to my green bin, I move some of it to a corner of the garden and some under my raspberries. This gives the sleepy heads time to roll out of bed and move on, while I plant my garden for the spring and summer. Why do we call them beneficial insects? Because they help fight unwanted pests, like aphids and caterpillars, that can destroy your garden, so giving them a reason to stick around in your yard is a win win!

Feed the birds: Some of the fruit and seeds that remain on flowers and shrubs, or that fall with your leaves, become food for both migratory and resident birds. The insects nestled within the fallen brush also provide birds with much needed nutrients. Store bought bird seed is a great supplement, but it's no substitute for fresh(ish) seeds and bugs.

Lawn care: A layer or two of leaves on your lawn will breakdown into a natural mulch and help enrich the soil and suppress weeds. This layer can also help keep moisture in the ground. Too thick a leaf cover can start to suffocate the lawn, but, if you happen to have too much to be beneficial, you can easily fix this by offering leaves to your neighbours, mulching the leaves with the mulch setting on your lawn mower (or just mow over it like usual), or composting the access leaves in your green bin. 

Only Green Bin compatible: Why does it matter if organic matter, such as leaves, end up in the black bin and then the landfill? The quick answer is Methane. Items in a landfill do not decompose the way it would if loosely buried in the ground. A landfill is designed to be anaerobic (say that 5 times fast) meaning there is an absence of oxygen. Without oxygen, nothing decomposes in the traditional sense. What does happen, though, is the buried organic matter will break down to create leachate (liquids) and two main gasses, methane and carbon dioxide, that get realeased into the air. Landfills are the number one source of methane in Calgary, but we can prevent this by keeping organic matter, including leaves, out of the landfill.

Happy Fall Clean-up!

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