Nature’s fertilizer falls from the trees

You have several options to get rid of autumn leaves. But it might be simpler — and more beneficial for your landscape — to just leave them where they land.

While autumn and fall are loosely used terms around South Texas, there is one constant: sooner or later, our deciduous trees will lose their leaves. And that leads to the question of what to do with them.

For many, the answer is simple. Rake, bag and send them off to the city’s solid waste management department to deal with. In a perfect world, they all end up as compost to benefit local soil. Unfortunately, green bins are underutilized and lots of leaves end up wasting away in the landfill.

But there is another way, a better way. Just leave the leaves on your landscape. The benefits will surprise you.

Every year, countless Texans spend millions on nitrogen rich fertilizers for their lawns and landscapes. Why not let nature lend a hand? Leaves contain a significant percentage of nitrogen, a primary nutrient required for plant growth.

So instead of raking those leaves, consider leaving them where they lie, or mowing them into your lawn. A light covering of leaf particles will break down over time and help fertilize your grass, promoting healthy microbial growth in the soil.

scattered leaves

If you don’t like the look of leaf debris on your lawn or if your trees have dropped too heavy a pile to effectively tackle with a mower, whole leaves can also be used as a top-dressing for plant beds. Just rake them up and spread them throughout your garden. You’re not only adding nutrients, but also helping cover and protect exposed soil.

Over time this layer of leaf litter can even help suppress weeds from growing in your beds. And by insulating and locking in moisture, there’s the added benefit of watering far less, if at all.

Now, before you worry about oak and pecan leaves and whether their acidity can negatively affect your lawn and plants, here’s the truth: research has shown any acidity these leaves possess is buffered by the time full decomposition rolls around. Plus, with our alkaline soil, any acid is a benefit.

So, do yourself a favor and leave the leaves on the landscape.

Picture of Seth Patterson
Seth Patterson
A naturalist by nature, Seth spent his early childhood crawling through creeks and caves of the Hill Country before moving to South Texas where he found his passion in nature photography. Now an avid scuba diver and underwater photographer, Seth follows the water wherever he lands and truly takes to heart his role as a conservation consultant for San Antonio Water System.
Dig Deeper

Find expert advice on garden basics, landscape design, watering and year-round maintenance.