Leave the Leaves: Your Garden Will Thank You!
You might have heard the slogan “Leave the Leaves” before. Although it is a simple statement, it has important benefits for your garden and biodiversity on a larger scale. Even the most seasoned gardeners might still bag up leaves to tidy their gardens instead of leaving a leafy mess. The idea of pristine lawns and flower beds dates back to Victorian England, where it was a sign of wealth. Let’s do away with this outdated notion and leave the leaves to build biodiversity and support soil health - a different kind of wealth!
Leaving the leaves is helpful to protect leaf-dwelling creatures such as spiders, caterpillars, cocoons, and even salamanders. Some moths cocoon overwinter in leaf litter and emerge in the spring - for example, the Polyphemus moth (pictured here) and other Giant Silk Moths camouflage their cocoons in leaf litter. Every creature and pollinator plays a role in contributing to the overall health and beauty of your garden so it is important to protect them, but there is another crucial reason, and that is to protect what’s below our feet: the soil ecosystem.
The soil ecosystem: the most biodiverse place on Earth
New studies show that more than half of the Earth’s species live in the soil: 90% of fungi, 50% of bacteria and 85% of plants (M. Anthony et al., 2023). This is an incredible statistic! Organic gardeners have known for years that the soil is where the majority of life is. One teaspoon of healthy soil can contain up to a billion bacteria and up to 1 km of fungi (Fortuna, A., 2012). Good, healthy, nutritious and biodiverse soil produces beautiful plants. On a global scale, soil biodiversity affects climate change feedback due to carbon storing and production, global food security through food production, and human health (Weston, P., 2023). To play your part in protecting this crucial system, you can start with your garden!
Leaving the leaves leads to healthier soil
Nature knows best, and has been feeding soils during the fall and winter long before we had clearly defined garden plots and lawns. When you leave the leaves (and all the other dead plant parts), you create a litter layer that protects and eventually feeds your soil. This layer breaks down over time, eventually becoming humus - a dark, nutrient-dense organic material that contains many of the nutrients needed to help plants survive and thrive.The litter layer both protects humus and eventually becomes it!
Feed the soil naturally
Soil is very much alive. Feeding your soil for a healthy garden all year round requires more than simply adding compost and organic fertilizers during your growing season; the fall and winter is a time where the garden may appear lifeless on the surface, but is replenishing its nutrients for the spring and summer below ground. Leaving the leaves and organic matter to layer on your garden soil is a simple step you can do to improve the health of your garden all year.
Why “leave the leaves”? So we can let Mother Nature do her thing: your garden will thank you!
If you’re interested in soil health and want to learn more about the importance of caring for the soils, consider taking our Organic Master Gardener course. This is a foundational course that will teach you so much about garden health, soil health and plant health for a beautiful and sustainable garden.
Leaves: Elena Photo
Moth: ePhotocorp from Getty Images
Soil: Sasiistock from Getty Images Pro