Autumn is such a magical season. Each year, I’m utterly enchanted by autumn; I watch in delight, as the leaves on trees and shrubs turn from green to gold, burnished amber, and a stunning array of fiery autumnal hues. Autumn leaves twirl and dance, as they make their descent, gliding and tumbling through the air, whispering softly as they flutter, before gently landing on the ground below. It’s quite simply magical! Autumn leaves really are a true blessing.
Please leave autumn leaves alone
For quite some time, there has been a culture of thought and belief that in autumn we must all rush around and collect up every fallen leaf. The belief that a garden needs to be deep cleaned, swept and emptied of all its fallen leaves and windswept branches has spread through communities and families, passing from one home to another, across the country.
However, I disagree. I believe that it is much better for the soil and for wildlife, if where we can, we leave autumn leaves under the tree or shrub they fell from; here the leaves will enhance the soil, help beneficial fungi, and provide a place where hedgehogs can hibernate.
Hedgehogs choose to hibernate in piles of fallen leaves, often under hedges or beneath trees. Some years ago, I was very fortunate to live in a small home with a large garden (Oh, how I long for my old garden!). I’ve always celebrated the blessings that autumn leaves bring us, so I left the leaves where they fell. Every autumn and winter, I would find hedgehogs hibernating in shallow patches of leaves, in the shelter of my hedges, beneath the trees, and in out of the way locations, around the boundaries of my garden.
I love hedgehogs. These adorable creatures are becoming rarer; hedgehogs desperately need our help. We all need to work together to form a landscape of connected, hedgehog friendly gardens across the country, to allow hedgehogs to live safely, without threats from slug pellets and bonfires, or danger from garden machinery. Finding a safe place to hibernate over winter is vital for hedgehogs, so please leave fallen leaves in sheltered and out of the way locations, in your garden for hedgehogs to snuggle up in.
I love hedgehogs so much that I wrote an article, filled with lots of ideas to help you, help hedgehogs.
Leaf blowers and garden vacuums
I detest leaf blowers and garden vacuums! I am always amazed at how long some gardeners spend outside with heavy leaf vacuuming machines pulling at their shoulders, charged by a fixed and absolute determination to collect up every fallen leaf in the vicinity, whisking any morsel of debris away. To me, this is not a positive or joyous activity.
The loud noise that garden vacuums, leaf blowers, and these types of machines, generate echoes through the landscape, drowning out all other sound. These gadgets are so intense that their reverberating volume resonates through the local area, overcoming birdsong; replacing the sound of life and joy, with that of misery and oppression.
Like many things in life, this has a ripple effect. People see others using these machines and they feel that using a leaf blower must be an easier option or somehow the secret to a better life. After becoming aware of their neighbours clearing their gardens, many folks simply feel obligated to do the same. We all want to do the right thing, no one wants to let their side of the street or their family down; so an ever increasing number of people now feel compelled to head outside in autumn, to collect up and dispose of all the leaves that have fallen in their gardens.
I’d like to encourage you to leave fallen leaves in safe, out of the way areas of your garden, but if you really want to gather up autumn’s leaf bounty, there’s no need to use loud machinery. Rakes and brooms are far more cost effective; these tools are quieter, lighter, and easier to use – they’re perfectly suited for this job.
Fun and positive activities to take part in this autumn
I’d like to make a suggestion to the world, that where it’s appropriate, we leave fallen leaves under the trees and shrubs they fell from, where the leaves will benefit plants, hedgehogs, and other wildlife.
Instead of putting so much effort into collecting up fallen leaves, why not use that time and energy to plant a tree, sow seeds, or take a few cuttings? Alternatively, head out for a walk and make time to admire and appreciate trees in their autumn glory. Autumn is a lovely time of year, it doesn’t last forever, so do make the most of it.
Exceptions – when is it best to collect leaves?
Naturally, there are exceptions and situations when leaves should be collected.
The best tools for collecting fallen leaves
I hope to encourage more people to leave fallen leaves in suitable places: under trees, hedges, and shrubberies, and in flower beds and borders, but there are instances where it is advisable to gather up autumn leaves.
If you want to collect leaves, garden rakes and brooms are the best tools for this job; there’s no need to use noisy, cumbersome, and expensive machinery.
It’s important to sweep up leaves that have fallen onto pathways and patios, as leaves can make these areas become slippery or dangerous to walk over. In these instances, I’d recommend using a broom or a rake to sweep up leaves from terraces or paths. Rakes and brooms are inexpensive tools that offer many benefits to gardeners; these tools are quiet, light, effective, and easy to use.
There’s no need to purchase an expensive leaf blower. Leaf blowers suck up insects and other creatures along with the leaves; they offer no benefit for wildlife. These machines create a lot of unsettling noise and commotion, disturbing communities, birds, and wildlife. Leaf blowers are also more expensive to purchase, maintain, and operate, than garden rakes and brooms.
Too many fallen leaves can upset the balance in a pond. If you have a problem with leaves blowing into your pond in autumn, you may want to consider netting your pond, to prevent the leaves from entering the water and decomposing. Netting ponds has never appealed to me, as I’m not a fan of net (wildlife often get trapped in netting), but this is a useful precaution that saves additional work over autumn and winter.
Another option is to install a pond skimmer in your pond, to collect leaves, pine needles, and other debris as they land on the surface of the water. Pond skimmers can be really effective; they operate continuously and keep the surface of the water clear. (Update: I was using the Oase AquaSkim 20 in my pond, but I’ve stopped using this product now after finding a dead newt in the basket).
If your pond is already full of old leaves that have now sunk to the bottom of your pond, it’s wise to scoop the leaves out in early springtime. One option, if you have a large amount of leaves to remove, is to create an open container, positioned just above the water; ensure that the container over-hangs or adjoins your pond and is as close to the water as possible. Construct the container using chicken wire, or another open wire mesh or netting; don’t worry about the aesthetics, you’ll only be using it for a couple of days. An open chicken wire container will allow you to deposit your leaves above or at the side of your pond, in a contained manner, but in such a way that any pond creatures you accidentally scoop out will have the chance to escape back in the water. When a few days have passed, take down the container and move the leaves to an out of the way location, under a hedge or tree, or in your compost heap.
I leave all the faded and decaying foliage on my aquatic plants (or floating or at the bottom of my wildlife pond) until early springtime, as I’ve watched dragonflies laying their eggs on decaying leaves in September. To remove the foliage would be the same as removing the eggs – which would be a tragedy. My autumn pond care routine is simple: do nothing until springtime. I remove the decaying leaves from my aquatic plants in February. To see my wildlife pond updates, please click here.
I’d always recommend that you collect up fallen rose leaves. A fungal disease called Rose Black Spot or Black Spot (also known by its scientific name of Diplocarpon rosae) is a common affliction of roses; affected plants display black markings on their leaves and stems, which is often paired with patches of yellow discolouration. The leaves of affected roses often turn yellow and drop early. Plants with black spot will lose one or two leaves here and there, from the summertime onwards. Black spot spoils the appearance of roses, but it also weakens the vigour of infected plants.
Once you’ve gathered up the leaves from your roses, bin or burn these leaves, add them to your green garden municipal waste bin, if you have one. Alternatively, bag the leaves up and take them to the tip.
Next, add a layer of mulch around your roses. Use home-made compost or a good quality peat free compost. This will help a little to mitigate the spread of black spot fungal spores, which spend the winter months dormant on the leaves and stems of infected plants. Black spot spores are released in springtime; the spores travel on the air and in rain and water droplets, to infect the new growth on roses…when the cycle begins again.
Paths and steps, terraces and patios
If leaves have fallen over a path, a terrace or patio, or an area where people may slip or fall, then understandably it’s important to sweep up and collect the fallen leaves from these areas. Perhaps you could move your collected leaves to an out of the way area of your garden, where hedgehogs and other creatures could use the leaves to hibernate?
If leaving fallen leaves in your garden isn’t an option for you, then I’d recommend you use your leaves to make leaf mould. You can’t buy leaf mould, so it’s literally a priceless commodity! Leaf mould has many uses, it helps to create a range of fantastic compost blends that support many types of plants. It’s super easy to make leaf mould, you don’t need any specialist equipment, but if you shred your leaves using a lawnmower first, this will chop the leaves up into fine shreds, which will help the leaf material to break down at a faster rate and it will allow you to contain more leaves in a smaller space, too. Put your leaves in a dedicated bin or create a leaf mould section, in your composting area.
Alternatively, place your collected leaves in a plastic bag, with the odd hole for drainage. When I worked as a gardener, I used to water my gathered, chopped up leaves as I popped them in a bag; then I would close the bag, leaving it for a couple of years, in a dark and out of the way location. If this method works for you, please be sure to place your bag in an area where the plastic can’t harm wildlife.
A word of warning: if you skip the step with the lawnmower and don’t chop your leaves into tiny fragments, then it will take a number of years for your leaves to breakdown and turn into lovely leaf mould. Go back and forth over the leaves with a lawnmower, using a collection bag attached to your mower for added convenience. This will save you time and energy stooping to collect all the leaves. Don’t worry if there are grass cuttings in amongst your chopped up leaves – this isn’t a problem at all. Make sure you water the chopped up leaves, as you bag them up or store them; as this will help with the decomposition process.
Another option is to add the leaves to your compost heap. If you plan to compost your leaves, add the leaf material to your compost bin a little at a time. Fill your compost heap with alternate layers of small amounts of different ingredients, from grass cuttings, leaves, vegetable peelings, etc.
Again, whizzing up the leaves with a lawn mower to blitz the leaves into minuscule pieces before you add them to your compost bin will help to speed up the time it takes for the leaf matter to decompose.
If you’re looking to grow or maintain a traditional British lawn, or a bowling green inspired lawned area, then to achieve this look you’ll need to collect the fallen leaves from the lawned areas of your garden. I’d recommend using a lawn mower with a collection bag attached, or alternatively use a garden rake for this job.
Autumn is an important time for lawn care. If you’re planning to create or maintain a traditional lawn, autumn is a busy season, that’s full of action! This is the ideal time to scarifying lawns, to remove dead grass, moss, and thatch. Autumn is a key time for lawn care, it’s also an opportunity to aerate the soil and sow grass seeds in bare patches.
Traditional lawns are expensive to maintain, they need regular on-going maintenance. A traditional lawn is not a habitat that’s inviting to wildlife. If you have a lawn, why not mow the middle and leave the perimeter to grow longer, or mow paths through your lawn? Doing this could help to make your garden a more inviting and safe space for wildlife, it will save you time and energy, too!
Wildlife and the natural world
Instead of installing a lawn, why not create a meadow or a flowering lawn? Alternatively, if you’re really keen on grass, why not plant an area of specimen grasses that are allowed to grow to full size? You could plant some perennials or bulbs in amongst the grasses, to provide added interest and flowers. This bushier terrain would provide cover for hedgehogs, and other wildlife to hide in, and if you chose single, un-fussy flowers, you could provide pollen and nectar for bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects.
Modern alternatives to lawns have created gardens that have become seemingly sterile and devoid of life. An increasing number of gardens are now obscured by artificial lawns and paving. At first glance, these gardens might appear to be easier to manage, but they’re without any life enhancing qualities for us and most importantly they are devoid of the life giving properties needed for insects and wildlife to flourish.
A wildlife garden doesn’t need to be high maintenance; it’s possible to create a beautiful garden that’s a haven for wildlife without spending every moment of your weekend working in the garden. Alternatively, why not employ a professional gardener to give you a hand? We all need to do more to help wildlife and the creatures that live alongside us. It’s important for us and for our insects that we take action to create a healthier environment for us all.
At this time of year, an autumnal stroll through a woodland or forest, a park, or a garden, can be so up-lifting and invigorating; it’s a tonic for the soul. I hope you’ll find time to experience the glory of this wonderful season.
For gardening advice for autumn, please click here.
For gardening advice for October, please click here.
For gardening advice for November, please click here.
For gardening advice for December, please click here.
For tips and ideas for tree planting, please click here.
For advice on how to create a beautiful perennial or annual meadow, please click here.
For tips and ideas on sustainable gardening, please click here.
For lots of information on all the different things that you can do to help hedgehogs, please click here.
To find out about the most fragrant and longest flowering daffodil varieties in my daffodil trials, please click here.