By Brooke Franklin, first published on the NRCS Blog, re-posted here with permission.
This fall, as you do your fall garden cleanup, rather than the tedious task of raking and bagging leaves and sending them to the landfill, the best way to reduce greenhouse gases and benefit your garden is to leave the leaves!
Leaves create a natural mulch that helps to suppress weeds while keeping the soil covered and adding organic matter. The leaves also serve as a habitat for wildlife including lizards, birds, turtles, frogs, and insects that overwinter in the fallen leaves.
Micro-organisms are the life of soil, and they need food and nutrients all the time. The more leaves left on your garden, the more feed for these micro-organisms that make soil healthier and plants grow stronger.
Mulching is a simple and beneficial practice for soil health, and if you (or your neighbors) have trees, you have free mulch at your fingertips each fall. Mulching can protect the soil surface and help stop erosion from rainfall. Soil cover moderates temperature extremes by keeping roots warmer during the winter and cooler in the summer, and keeps moisture in the ground, which is especially important during times of drought.
You can mulch leaves where they fall, chop them up with your mower, or choose to move the leaves. Leaves work well in between rows of crops or around fruit trees, areas where there is heavy machine or foot traffic, and shaded areas where vegetation doesn’t grow well. They can also be used in between growing seasons rather than leaving the soil bare. The leaves can be useful in areas that have compacted soil as they help to reduce runoff as well as using their nutrients to create healthier soils. You can also include leaves in a compost mix to use on your crops.