Written by an area Landscape Architect and birdwatcher with over 30 years of experience with landscaping in north Texas: what works and what doesn't. Emphasis on attracting birds to north Texas yards, and reducing required yard maintenance. Tips, trivia and proven advice for a natural, low-cost approach for this unique and sensitive part of the country.
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Monday, December 14, 2015
Use dead leaves the way nature intended
Sooner or later,
you’ll get tired of moving fallen leaves from one place in your yard to
another. Maybe you end up stuffing them into plastic bags or you decide to call
a mound of leaves a "compost pile." Here’s an idea: instead of using a
rake, use your lawn mower to improve your soil and get fallen leaves out of
easiest and most environmentally sensible thing to do is leave the leaves where
they fall, and shred them up with your mower. No special mower or blade is
necessary; just do it like you’re cutting the lawn. By far the worst thing you
can do is rake up all the fallen leaves, leaving bare ground exposed to the
elements. This just encourages unwanted vegetation and erosion. A thin carpet
of shredded, dead leaves protects the soil from compaction and erosion; and it’s
free! It also loosens the soil so it holds water better.
of the trees in north Texas
are oak trees. All spring and summer, oak leaves store up nutrients gathered
from the soil. These nutrients are roughly equivalent to the nutrients in store-bought
compost, which we'll gladly pay good money for! About now, however, leaves are dying
and falling to the ground. Then they start decomposing naturally, becoming
compost. They’re also releasing all of that stored nutrition. (It's a natural,
yearly cycle that nature intended.) This coming winter, the dead leaves will protect
fragile roots (which are usually near the surface) from the cold.
the dead leaves away interferes with this natural process and stresses plants,
which now have no natural source of nutrition or natural protection. Left in
place, however, fallen leaves slowly decompose into an excellent soil
ingredient; leaves mixed with your soil will immediately start decomposing to nourish
and loosen the soil and noticeably improve plant growth.
is certainly not my strong suit. However, I'm told that fallen leaves contain
carbon and nitrogen compounds, which all plants crave. What's more, some
organic compounds (such as amino acids) resulting from leaf decomposition can
be absorbed directly by plants, for more vigorous growth.
only drawback that I know of is that sometimes too many leaves can form a mat
and smother plants, cutting them off from sunlight, air or water. Of course, if
you shred your leaves into little pieces with your mower, this isn’t a problem.
No mat will form, your lawn will green up earlier in the spring and it will resist browning in the
be amazed by the way your leaves nearly disappear when you shred them. They’ll
take up around ten percent of the space that unshredded leaves do. Many
pieces will simply filter down between the grass blades and start decomposing
and releasing nutrients right way, instead over the next decade. This lets you skip one of your yearly fertilizer
can, and do, come to rest in the wrong places sometimes. So if they're on your
driveway, sidewalk, porch or deck, by all means rake or blow them away. But
when they fall on soil (including your lawn), look at them as a free gift from
nature, chock-full of nutrition for your plants, not as a future chore. Those
dead leaves should be used as nature intended, not thrown away, burned or sent
to the landfill.
in addition to blogging, is a Landscape Architect emeritus from here, who‘s
in north Texas for over 30 years.He is
a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International
Society of Landscape Architects, the National BirdFeeding Society, National
Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. He was honored with a Lifetime
Achievement award by the Native Plant Society of Texas. His design office is at