Leaf litter is a vital resource for both plants and animals. Bird and insect populations are declining, in part due to habitat lost to development. Countless insects, including the larval and pupal stages of important pollinators, rely on leaf litter for protection over the winter. These same leaf piles consequently become important places to forage for food by birds. We can provide this habitat in our yards by placing leaves under the plants these animals frequent.
The plants also benefit as the leaves break down and return essential nutrients to the soil. Decomposed leaves also add structure to the soil, which improves water retention and the soil’s ability to handle droughts and flooding events. When we remove leaves, we find that we need to add extra fertilizer and must purchase mulch for our plant beds. Leaf mulch also suppresses weeds, helps retain moisture, and protects plant beds during the winter. You can save time and money by using the leaves that are already in your yard.
To create leaf mulch for your yard, rake leaves into plant beds and mulch mow leaves directly into the lawn. To help leaves decompose faster, use a mower, leaf shredder or chipper to break leaves into smaller pieces before adding them to plant beds. If you prefer the look of bark or other mulch in your landscaping, add a 3” layer of leaf mulch and cover that with a commercial mulch of your choice. Use a regular mower or attach special mulching blades to mulch leaves into the lawn. Many mowers are already designed to mulch cut grass and can be used to mulch mow leaves as well. Put the mower on its highest setting and run it over the leaves. This is best done when leaves are dry. Sometimes a second pass is needed to shred them to a small enough size. Use the resources that have already been deposited in your yard to benefit your plants and their pollinators.