Q: What should I do with the abundance of leaves falling in my garden, driveway and street?
A: Happy New Year! What to do with all those leaves? Some call it leaf litter, but it can be useful to create a rich, biodiverse layer that offers many benefits to your garden.
Use a garden leaf blower with a shredder attachment to shred the leaves, then spread evenly around garden beds to create a free, nutrient-filled mulch.
This beneficial layer helps to prevent erosion and soil runoff, serves as a source for migratory and local birds to forage for food, and provides a home and hiding place for small and microscopic creatures. These tiny creatures, along with fungi and bacteria, help to decompose the leaf litter while worms and insects spread it deeply within the soil through their tunnels.
Keep in mind that not all leaves are created equal. Maple and sweetgum leaves are tender and shred finely; just be sure to remove the sweetgum balls first. Pine needles shred into a nice, light mulch. Most oak leaves are great, but water oak leaves are tough and do not shred well. Instead, fill a plastic bag with moistened water oak leaves. They will break down slowly and can be added to a compost pile later.
Remember to avoid using pesticides or herbicides that can harm this rich biodiversity. To read more about this topic, check out “Life in the Leaf Litter” published by the American Museum of Natural History.