The natural process of seasonal leaf fall is a critical component to the ecological cycle in our urban forests. The trees go dormant in the colder season and conserve energy, resulting in this process called senescence. Leaves are a critical building block for many other areas of the ecosystem while providing essential benefits. Those benefits include the natural development of healthy soils, habitat for insects to overwinter in, including bees, and much more.
Over time, our society has developed annual traditions when it comes to the Fall season and seasonal leaf drop. We all remember as kids and adults, raking leaves, playing in the leaf piles, and who doesn’t remember burning leaves if you lived in less urban areas. Much of the raking of leaves is derived from urban communities incorporating grass into the urban home landscape, in which the presence of leaves are a limiting factor in the healthy growth of turfgrass. Society has stereotyped the typical suburban home being about how great your grass looks. This unfortunate trend has led to an unsustainable practice of excessive mowing, constant removal of beneficial organic matter, and a carbon footprint in our urban landscapes. Hence, leaves need to be physically removed annually from our natural ecosystems over many years, which ultimately results in degraded soil quality in urban landscapes and reduced habitat for a variety of insects, including bees.
As with anything, a balance of needs and desires is necessary for healthy ecosystems, communities, and society. Grass, or sometimes referred to as turf, is always going to be some sort of component to our urban landscapes. That doesn’t mean turf needs to be everywhere and we are beginning to do that in the green industry as more and more restoration ecology occurs in our ecosystems as well as urban communities. Resulting in more natural areas with natural prairie ecosystems, native plants, and ample insect and wildlife habitat. More development needs to continue to occur in these areas, which will allow for a healthier urban ecosystem with a balance of urban needs and natural needs leading to beautiful, functional, and sustainable urban landscapes.
With all of this, there does exist a need for leaf collection from urban communities. The responsibility of those providing these services is to utilize those leaves in a sustainable matter once collected. A major use of those leaves is in the development of leaf mulch. This is an underused mulch that has major benefits to our urban landscapes and trees. Leaf mulch is a beautiful-looking mulch providing many of the same benefits as wood mulch. The difference with leaf mulch is that it breaks down much quicker, releasing its nutrients as well as organic matter to the soil and helping build healthier soils. It can be used as an amendment to existing soils, or simply laid on top leading into the winter season while enhancing the soil biologically and providing habitat for overwintering insects.
Our leaf collection teams efficiently collect leaves from properties and local communities with the use of leaf vacuums. Leaves are raked to the curbside by property owners and then we vacuum them into our trucks. From there, we bring them back to our yard and produce all of them into an excellent leaf mulch product which is used throughout our local urban forest and landscape, keeping the components of the natural carbon cycle here in our local area.
In the end, leaving leaves in our urban landscapes is the best option in many settings. Yet, in those settings where leaves do need to be removed, utilizing them in a sustainable product applied back to our local ecosystems is the next best option. We are proud to be a part of those who do this type of work and help enhance our local natural ecological processes and ecosystems.