Leaves are sometimes called the food factories of green plants. In the complex process of photosynthesis, leaves absorb sunlight and this energy is used to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugars and oxygen gas. Not only does this process provide food for the plant itself, but ultimately supports all life on Earth. The nutrients in plants and the oxygen gas released by plants are the basis of the food that we eat and the air that we breathe.

 Even with the naked eye we can marvel at the amazing structure of a simple leaf (which in fact is far from simple). For the natural gardener, leaves add another and literal level of enrichment.

Leaf structure in close up

Living leaves sustain the plant itself and plants sustain life on Earth. But when leaves die and fall to the ground, they keep on giving.

 Fallen leaves are important in woodland ecology as the rich layer of soft organic material protects the earth from wind and heat and absorbs water. Organisms and small animals, such as earthworms, consume this organic material and in time this natural mulch enriches the soil itself. The nutrients cycle through the animals and the next generation of trees in a recycling process that is self-sustaining.

 The soft carpet of leaves not only sustains natural woodlands but also has a profound charm that inspires the human imagination. Think of all the folk and fairy tales that involve the small creatures of the forest floor. So! Put away the rake I say, and leave the leaves! Why not allow the natural recycling of leaves in the garden?

Terrestrial brownbul feeding in indigenous gardenTerrestrial Brownbul

Fallen leaves protect and enrich the soil and provide habitats for all manner of insects and other forms of life. In turn such creatures become tasty morsels that entice birds and other animals into the garden.

Some of us can’t bear the sight of fallen leaves on the lawn, but a study at Michigan State University found that leaving the leaves provides the lawn with nutrients. All we need to do in the autumn is put the lawn mower on a higher setting and mow the leaves, perhaps twice a week during the period when the leaves are falling, so as to fragment the leaves and form a mulch. The fragmented leaves decompose gently and sift down into the lawn. Not only does this mulch add nutrients to the soil to benefit the lawn but it also retards the growth of weeds. With no bare patches of earth, weeds cannot find a foothold to root in.

Posted by Carol at letting nature back in