Soil health is an underrated, yet highly critical, environmental factor. It promotes climate resistance, microbe diversity, and healthy plants and animals. How can you support soil health and protect your local biome? This fall, experts are opposed to bagging up your leaves and disposing them in the trash. By letting your fall leaves strategically decay on the ground, you can nourish your plants and restore the soil's nutrient supplies, while not adding to local landfills.
Leaves contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. In the forest, these vital nutrients are returned to the earth by the natural process of decay on the forest floor. Yards which are scrupulously raked each fall may miss out on this important seasonal refresher. “Those nutrients are being returned to the soil,” Susan Barton, a professor in landscape horticulture at the University of Delaware, informed NPR. “But probably even more important than that, it's the organic matter. It's the fact that you've got this tissue that then eventually decomposes and improves the soil health.” This matter is also the home to bugs, slugs, and small animals. Not pests; these are critical to ecosystems.
To harness this valuable resource, do not bag up your leaves. Instead, run over thin layers with a lawn mower or collect them into a compost bin. This will turn the leaves into a nutritious mulch to nourish your garden or lawn. Be careful to not keep too thick a layer of leaves on grass, though, as it blocks sunlight and kills the grass. “Ideally, you want to let them decompose a little bit and they'll form a very nice mulch,” Barton says. “Instead of going out and buying hardwood bark mulch, which is expensive, you can have a better mulch that's free.”
When bagged, leaves end up in landfills. While leaves themselves are biodegradable, they need oxygen to actually breakdown. Trapped in bags, they release a lot of methane, which is bad for the environment. City dwellers may have to be careful, as loose leaves can wash into and clog drains. However, many municipalities collect and recycle leaves, so check your local town or city website. But remember, the leaves are not a nuisance. “We want to think about those leaves as being a resource,” Barton says. “And when you think about sustainable landscaping, well, one of the things we say about sustainable landscaping is let natural processes happen. And that's a natural process.”
Experts are advising people not to bag their leaves this fall: letting them decay will be good for crucial soil health.