Who didn’t enjoy jumping into a giant pile of leaves as a kid?  Or, enjoy watching your own kids have that happy moment!  The Fall is a wonderful season of football, apple cider, cooler temperatures, and an opportunity to get outside and enjoy a long hike before the cold weather of winter sets in.

With the Fall season also comes the dreaded leaf raking and the annual procession to the yard with your rake and tarp to pick up the leaves.  Albeit, this raking is necessary to have that enjoyment of jumping in the leaves, but if you have a giant Silver Maple or Norway Maple in your yard you always have that feeling of “will these leaves ever stop falling!?” Why have we become so programmed to make this seasonal event year after year?

Leaf litter is one of the essential building blocks for developing healthy soils and maintaining the nutrient cycle in a forested ecosystem.  In a natural forest setting, the leaves are never removed from the ecosystem and break down over time enriching the soil by providing nutrients and organic material for a healthy soil.  When you walk in the woods it might sometimes feel spongy or certainly much more comfortable on your feet than walking on hard concrete all day long.  That spongy feeling is because of the significant organic matter in the soil. That first layer of partially decomposed leaves that you are walking on is referred to as the “duff” layer.  No, it’s not Homer Simpson’s favorite beverage of choice, the duff layer is a necessary component for a healthy forest ecosystem.  Not only does it provide nutrients soil temperature moderation and many other benefits, but it also provides habitat for numerous organisms and microorganisms which help sustain animal and bird populations.

Our urban forests are obviously different environments than a natural forest, but they can be managed and maintained to emulate the natural setting of a forest. Focusing on this aspect will help to enhance our urban forests and for us to attain their values in our communities.  Urban forests incorporate two things that make this management challenging, turf, and concrete.  These two things are foreign to a tree in a natural setting.  Focusing on turf here, it is necessary to select urban environments. In order to help it coincide with the trees in our urban forests, the development of mulch rings for individual trees or landscape beds for trees planted in groups are an effective strategy.  For the turf to survive, we must either mulch the leaves through mowing or remove the leaf litter, thus the mulch rings or landscape beds can be the parts that emulate the forest floor.  Placing the leaf litter in your mulch rings or in your landscape beds will help improve your soil and provide habitat for organisms, which will result in food for the tree, wildlife, and birds.  Sometimes leaves need to be removed if you are attempting to control fungal problems, such as black tar leaf spot or apple scab just to name a few.  In these cases, companies like us, will utilize those leaves to produce a product called “leaf mulch”, which is similar to the duff layer that we talked about earlier.  Leaf mulch is excellent to apply to mulch rings or landscape beds to again emulate the natural forest setting.

If your mom or dad are demanding you rake the leaves, you didn’t hear this from us, but the less raking we do in our urban forests the better our urban forests will thrive.  There are many companies out there helping promote sustainable landscapes and urban forests so that we can have healthy trees in our communities which lead to healthy people, plants, and animals.  All necessary pieces to a healthy and functioning urban forest ecosystem.

We are proud to do a small part of retaining local leaves through our annual curbside leaf pickup programs.  With these leaves, we produce a leaf mulch product that is then recycled back into our local urban forest ecosystem.  When it comes to leaves, stay inside and enjoy that football game and a glass of fresh apple cider, let the leaves help our urban forests thrive!

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