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Put away the rake, for nature's sake
Published: 11/8/2022
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When it comes to fall yard clean-up, a lazier approach can benefit your lawn, local wildlife, and save you some time. Healthy soil yields healthy plants and biodegradable material plays a key role in establishing healthy soil. Soil in urban areas like Novi is often short on such material, as many homeowners have a tendency toward meticulously disposing of every fallen leaf, twig, and grass trimming. These excessively tidy practices can deprive the soil microbiome of important ingredients and leave the soil more compacted, nutrient deficient, and lifeless than it otherwise could be. Fallen leaves or other plant debris can also serve as overwintering sites for butterflies, bees, and a host of other wildlife. For example, many swallowtail butterfly species in this area overwinter in their chrysalis, which is commonly built among leaf litter or on the stalks of perennial plants that have gone dormant for the year. Removing all dead plant debris from a property may also remove or destroy these chrysalises.

Consider the following options for dealing with plant material before spending money or hours on raking, bagging, and blowing leaves to the curb.

  1. Allow plant material to remain on all or part of your lawn – A thin layer of leaves is unlikely to inhibit grass growth in the following year. If this is not feasible, leaves can be relocated to the backyard or even to small areas—like beneath a tree or in garden beds to act as mulching material. Likewise, dormant plant stalks should be left uncut through spring to preserve overwintering sites for insects.
  2. Compost the leaves - Leaves serve as excellent bulk “brown” material for composting, which can help to balance a large amount of “green” material such as fresh grass clippings or kitchen waste. Composting leaves in the fall can help you get a head start on a new batch of compost for the next growing season.
  3. Mow leaves into your lawn – If unable to leave the leaves and other plant material whole, it can always be mowed into the lawn. This will not help out overwintering wildlife, but it will add a boost of biodegradable material to improve your soil health.