Bare soil, especially in winter, is not good for the environment. So many people, to make
Salal ground cover in flower
their yard “neat,” rake up or blow all the leaves or conifer needles from their soil, leaving it bare. Rarely in nature will you find bare soil. When the soil is bare, and it rains, the raindrops close up the pores in the soil it absorbs water. Next that water, sheeting off of the bare soil, causes our streams to become flashy (quick, high volume, peak flows rather than gradual flow increase). In a forest, very little water flows across the surface of the ground. I bet you didn’t know your leaves help reduce surface water runoff.
Pacific coast iris
If the leaves are left in place, they provide a protective mulch for the soil, and they break down and return their nutrients back into the soil.
Leaves are also important for our native birds. Ground birds scratch in the leaves for small critters to eat. And yes, they do scatter the leaves about, but then I like seeing the birds and I buy less bird seed.
Why waste your time, energy and money removing something that provides benefit to the environment? I do remove the leaves from my walkways, decks and driveway but then
I usually scatter the leaves in the woods. Note: I did not say to make big, heavy, soggy, wet piles of them. Occasionally, I even put them in the yard waste bins to be picked up.
If you rake or blow leaves, don’t dump them onto growing green plants, the dead leaves will smother the plants. A lot of our native ground covers, such as piggy-back plant, ferns, salal, kinnickinnik, heuchera, irises and low Oregon grape, stay green in the winter. You can mulch these plants with leaves but don’t bury them.
The top of steep slopes are another place not to pile up heavy wet leaves (and other garden debris). The weight of leaves and/or debris at the top of a slope, can cause the slope to fail and slide down the hill. Not a good thing for may reasons.
OK, so why do we want to leave the leaves (and needles) on bare soil?
- the leaves protect the soil from the rain, allowing the rain to be more readily absorbed
- they help reduce storm water flow off of your property
- their nutrients are returned to the soil as they break down
- energy, time and money are saved by not raking or blowing them away
- they provide a hiding place for small critters that birds like to scratch for and eat