Leaves Are Nature’s Fertilizer

Seth Patterson

While you have several options to get rid of autumn leaves, it might be simpler — and more beneficial to your landscape — to just let them lie where they fall.

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 them, bag them 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. Simply leave the leaves on your landscape. The benefits can be surprising.

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 from the harsh Texas sun.

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 more conservatively, if even at all.

Now before you worry about oak leaves and whether their acidity can negatively affect your 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.

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