by Kathy Sykes
Fall provides a great opportunity to suppress weeds and provide essential nutrients for next year’s yard and garden. But there is no need to spend money on mulch and fertilizer. Mother Nature is about to provide both.
Fallen leaves are a free resource with many benefits. They create an organic layer, providing not only food and shelter but also nesting and bedding materials for wildlife and winter protection for beneficial insects. The leaves are an important component to a home compost pile and can be layered between your food waste throughout the winter. And, they feed and shelter numerous microbes, which are probably the most important “crop” you can grow. All plant life depends on healthy soil, and microbes in the soil provide the essential nutrients for next year’s grass.
If you have a lawn mower, you can mow over the fallen leaves and convert them into tiny particles that enhance the lawn’s fertility. While a mulching mower (which cost $200 to $250) is recommended, any mower can accomplish the task. One simply needs to mow over the yard filled with leaves a few times during fall.
If you decide you need a “tidier” look to your lawn, and don’t want to look at dried leaves, you may rake them into garden beds, flower beds, or around bushes or trees. It is important to note that raking actually removes important nutrients from your yard.
For those of us living in an apartment, coop or condominium, decisions on how to care for the landscape may be made by the management company, a landscape committee or board of directors. Hired contractors to care for the lawn and garden may also not be aware of the benefits of leaves for lawns. In that case, as a resident you may need to weigh in and educate those in charge of landscaping decision-making. They may not be aware of the important cost savings or the environmental benefits.
Kathy Sykes was inspired by the memory of her mother, a master at gardening, when she seriously took up the art in 2017. To learn more, she completed the UDC Master Gardening program, and volunteered at Hillwood Estate and Peabody School on Capitol Hill until Covid-19 interrupted that work. Sykes most recently has been coordinating with Van Ness Main Street to plant pollinator-attracting gardens in the tree boxes along Connecticut Avenue.