Grumpy Gardener Says: Don't Let the Leaves Lie
Having crushed the absurd notion of planting carnivorous plants to control insects in my previous post, I now turn my jaundiced eye upon another half-witted gardening proposal making the rounds of social media these days – letting tons of leaves fallen from shade trees lie on your lawn all winter.
This nutty theory suggests that doing so aids the environment, because beneficial insects such as butterflies spend the winter in leaf litter and only the most heartless villain would stoop to hurting butterflies.
That's but one side of the coin, however. Logic dictates that if leaf cover helps beneficial insects survive winter, it will aid harmful ones just as much – bugs like stinkbugs, squash borers, cockroaches, cucumber beetles, bean beetles, boxelder bugs, tomato hornworms, and cabbageworms. No free ride!
An additional argument against leaving your lawn under a winter blanket of wet, moldy leaves is that it's not good for the grass. For one thing, if you have grass that stays green all winter like bluegrass or fescue, it won't be getting any sun or air. For another, the lawn will be subject to constant moisture that provides the perfect environment for a raft of diseases.
An aesthetic argument merits mentioning too. Yards smothered with slimy, brown leaves look trashy, like nobody cares. This invites people to dump real trash there. After all, what difference will a couple of soft drinks cans and a plastic poop bag make? Nobody at home will care.
A Sensible Solution for Fallen Leaves
Forget about the bugs. Trust me, no matter what you do with your leaves, your life and our world will always be rife with bugs. Little known fact: King Solomon always raked his yard in the fall. And we still have crickets and aphids.
Once we agree that the leaves are coming off, the question remains what to do with them. The wrong and environmentally lazy answer is to send them off to the landfill. The correct and environmentally sensitive alternative is to use them to enrich the soil in your yard. For this, all you need is a mulching mower and a twenty-something, live-at-home son who needs a break from his X-Box.
Set the mowing height to about two inches (you'll have to show him how to do this as he thinks it works with Alexa). When the leaves are fairly dry, have him run over the lawn as if he were cutting grass (something he read about in History class). In less time than it takes to rake or blow off the yard, the mower will chop the leaves into little bits. He can leave them where they drop, as they'll decompose into organic matter and enrich the soil without harming the grass.
But suppose something called "ambition" plagues your boy? In such a rare case, have him use the mower's bagging attachment to collect the run-over leaves. Chopped leaves make an excellent mulch for garden beds. They stay in place, look great, and feed the earthworms. Or if you have a compost bin, have him toss them in there to make compost.
I hope you have enjoyed today's lesson in how to garden sensibly. Class dismissed!