Leaves for Healthy Gardens
Leaves for Healthy Gardens
Fall is a beautiful time in Madison Square Park. There is a special crispness in the air and the leaves begin to change color. Our tree canopy becomes a beautiful sight with a wonderful mix of reds, yellows, and oranges. But then, the leaves begin to fall, covering the ground. Ever wonder what happens to those leaves?
Naturally, many people’s first response is to rake the leaves and ship them away to maintain an aesthetically pleasing green space. However, sending waste to landfills will contribute to climate change. Luckily, we can repurpose the leaves in a way that is beneficial to our park.
How Bad Can Fallen Leaves Be? Aren’t They Natural?
Yard waste is the third-largest component of solid waste by weight and the most prolific source of waste by volume. Each year, 33.4 million tons of yard waste is produced in the United States. Over 65% of this waste, including fallen leaves, is sent to landfills where it releases emissions that contribute to climate change.
For years, Madison Square Park’s team would rake and bag leaves and load them in a truck to be driven to a landfill where they would decompose. Sadly, making us responsible for some of those landfill emissions, and the emissions released during transportation.
Won’t They Rot Anyway? How do you Avoid Emissions?
First, we leave as many of the leaves as we can in our garden beds. These leaves will decompose naturally, providing many benefits for our gardens as they do.
For the unsightly leaves on our busy lawns and walkways, we use a leaf vacuum to suck them up and a chipper to shred them. The shredded leaves will quickly compost into a dark, black, earthy hummus through an aerobic process that reduces or prevents emissions as the organic matter breaks down. This material is then applied to garden beds.
While in our garden beds, the leaves will break down much more quickly and naturally than in a landfill, providing many benefits for the park’s wildlife and gardens along the way.
Benefits of the Leaves
Both fully intact and mulched leaves create an insulating layer for some of the park’s most important species. Under just a few inches of leaf cover, caterpillars, bumblebees, ground-nesting bees, and fireflies can hibernate throughout the winter, protected from the cold and predators. In fact, fallen leaves from the park’s oak trees alone can support butterfly species and nearly seventy variations of moths!
Also living under the leaf cover are rich ecosystems of fungi, bacteria, insects, earthworms, and beetles. These decomposers work all winter long to further break down the leaf material. This improves soil aeration and water draining in garden beds.
Healthy soil under the mulch and leaves holds onto nutrients that would otherwise be lost when it rains, reduces soil erosion, and suppresses the growth of weeds, helping our gardens thrive as springtime approaches.
Love the Leaves
Next time you see fallen leaves in the park, let them serve as a reminder of the beautiful fall canopy just weeks before and look forward to the beauty they will provide in the springtime.