A Request to Leave Your Autumn Leaves Alone

Autumn leaves

Autumn is such a beautiful season.  I love to watch the leaves on trees and shrubs, as they turn from green to gold, burnished amber, and an array of fiery autumnal hues.  Autumn leaves twirl and dance, as they make their descent, gliding and tumbling through the air onto the floor below.  It’s quite simply magical; autumn leaves are a blessing!

At this time of year, an autumnal walk through a wood, a forest, a park, or a garden, can be so up-lifting.  I hope you’ll find time to enjoy the glory of this wonderful season.

Why not leave autumn leaves alone?

For quite some time, there has been a culture of thought that believes that in autumn we must all rush around and collect up every fallen leaf.  The belief that a garden needs to be deep cleaned and emptied of leaves and fallen branches has spread through communities and families, passed from one generation to another.

However, I disagree.  I believe that it is much better for the soil and for wildlife, if where we can, we leave the leaves under the tree or shrub they fell from, where the leaves can enhance the soil, help beneficial fungi, and provide a place where hedgehogs can hibernate.

Autumn leaves are beautiful at every stage. Through the cold winter months, fallen leaves form an insulating layer where hedgehogs hibernate.

Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs hibernate in piles of fallen leaves, often under hedges or beneath trees.  At one time I had a large garden.  I never collected up autumn leaves, I left them where they fell.  Each autumn and winter, I would find hedgehogs hibernating in shallow patches of leaves, under the trees and in out of the way locations, around the boundary of my garden.

I love hedgehogs.  These adorable creatures are becoming rarer, they need our help, if they are to survive.  We all need to work together to form a landscape of connected, hedgehog friendly gardens across the country; where hedgehogs can live happily, without threats from slug pellets and bonfires, or danger from garden machinery.  I love hedgehogs so much that I wrote an article, filled with lots of ideas to help you, help hedgehogs.

I don’t think of fallen leaves as unsightly, they are fun! The fallen leaves of Ginkgo biloba form a beautiful yellow carpet under this tree, at the Royal Botanical Gardens, at Kew.

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 draped over 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.

Leaf blowers are so noisy! A rake is often easier, cheaper, and so much quieter to use. I recommend leaving leaves where they have fallen under trees to benefit the trees, soil and the mycorrhizal fungi.

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 folk simply feel obligated to do the same.  They don’t want to let their side of the street or their family down, so they’re compelled to head outside and collect up all the leaves that have fallen in their own gardens.

There’s no need to use loud machinery.  Rakes and brooms are cheaper, quieter, lighter, and easier to use tools, that are perfectly suited for this job.

Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’.

Fun and positive activities to do 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 these leaves will benefit plants and wildlife.

Instead of putting so much effort into collecting up fallen leaves, why not use that time and energy to plant a tree, or sow some 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.

Make time to go for a beautiful walk this autumn.

Exceptions – when is it best to collect leaves?

Naturally there are exceptions and times when leaves should be collected.

The best tools to collect up fallen leaves

I hope to encourage more people to leave fallen leaves in suitable places, under trees and hedges, in the flower beds and borders in their gardens, but there are instances where it is advisable to collect 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 loud and cumbersome machinery.

Garden rakes and brooms are the best tools for collecting up fallen leaves.

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 to sweep up leaves from terraces or paths.  Rakes and brooms are cheaper, quieter, lighter, and easier to use tools, that are perfectly suited for this job, there’s no need for expensive machinery.

Ponds

Too many fallen leaves can upset the balance in a pond.  If you have a problem with leaves blowing into your pond each 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, but it’s a useful precaution and saves unnecessary work over autumn and winter.

If your pond is full of leaves, it’s wise to scoop the leaves out.  If you can create some kind of barrier, using chicken wire, or an open mesh or netting, so that you can deposit your leaves at the side of the pond, in a contained manner, but in such a way that any pond creatures you scoop out with the leaves can get back in the water, so much the better.

Roses

I’d always recommend that you collect up fallen rose leaves.  A fungal disease called black spot, which is 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.  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.

Rose black spot.

Once you’ve gathered up the leaves from your roses, bin or burn these leaves, or add them to your green garden municipal waste bin, if you have one.  The most important thing to do is to 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 moths dormant on the leaves and stems of infected plants, where they wait for the ideal conditions in springtime.  Black spot spores are released in springtime, the spores travel in the air and in rain and water to infect the new growth on roses; when the cycle begins again.

Paths and steps, terraces and patios

It’s important to take the time to sweep up leaves from paths, to prevent them from becoming slippery.

If leaves have fallen onto 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, too.  Perhaps you could place your collected leaves in an out of the way area, where hedgehogs and other creatures can live or hibernate?

Leaf mould

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, which helps to create fantastic compost blends that will support many different types of plants.  Leaf mould is very easy to make.  You don’t need any specialist equipment, but if you shred your leaves using a lawnmower first, this will chop them up finely, which will help the leaves to break down faster 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, if you’re lucky enough to have one.

Alternatively, place your collected leaves in a plastic bag, with the odd hole for drainage.  When I worked as a gardener and I had to collect leaves, I used to water my gathered leaves in their bag; then I would close the bag and leave 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 of leaves in an area where the plastic won’t harm wildlife.

A garden rake is a useful tool for collecting up fallen leaves. Gathered leaves can be turned into leaf mulch – a valuable soil conditioner and ingredient for home made compost.

Composting leaves

You could also add your collected leaves to your compost heap.  If you plan to do this, I’d advise your to add your leaves to your compost bin in small quantities, a little at a time.  Fill your compost heap or bin with layers of small amounts of different ingredients, from grass cuttings, leaves, vegetable peelings, etc.

Traditional lawns

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 this part 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 on creating or maintaining a traditional lawn, autumn is a time 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.

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, too.

Wildlife and the natural world

Instead of installing a lawn, why not create a meadow?  Alternatively, if you’re really keen on grass, why not plant an area of specimen cultivated grasses that are allowed to grow to full size?  You could plant some perennials or bulbs amongst the grasses, to provide added interest and flowers?  This would provide cover for newts, frogs, toads, hedgehogs, and other wildlife to hide in and if you chose single, un-fussy flowers, you’d also have the opportunity to provide pollen and nectar for bees, hoverflies, butterflies, moths, and other pollinating insects.

Clover creates a green lawn with a country feel and flowers for bees, butterflies, and pollinating insects.

Some gardens have become almost sterile and devoid of life.  Many gardens are covered with artificial lawns and paving.  These gardens might seem to be easier to manage, but these areas are without any life enhancing qualities for us and most importantly they are devoid of the life giving properties needed for insects and wildlife.  A garden doesn’t need to be high maintenance, you can create a beautiful garden that’s a haven for wildlife without spending a great deal of time working in the garden.  Alternatively, why not take on 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.

Other articles that may interest you………….

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.

For gardening advice for mid October to mid November, please click here.

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One thought on “A Request to Leave Your Autumn Leaves Alone

  1. Malcolm Storey

    October 12, 2019 at 8:53am

    I always wait for a dry day in November when all the leaves on the drive blow into a couple of heaps and are easily picked up with a pair of plastic hands.

    • Author

      Pumpkin Beth

      October 12, 2019 at 12:24pm

      Here’s to the dry, sunny days of autumn. Cheers, Malcolm. Have a great weekend. Best wishes, Beth

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