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We do many things to get our lawns and gardens ready for winter. We reseed, fertilized, rake, aerate, mulch, mow, and water. Wait.. mulch? Mulch? Leaves!

If you have deciduous trees in your landscape, chances are they change color in the fall and then drop their leaves. Our first instinct is to rake the leaves into piles, bag them, and kick them to the curb. Evergreens, the trees with the long “needles” and seed cones, don’t have the big yearly shed that leafy trees have, but older trees usually have a sizable bed of shed needles that help protect the roots during the cold weather.

Do Leaves as Much Work?

Let’s take a second thought about this, though. Leaves are a great natural mulch. They protect the ground, keep water between the layers of the leaves, thus preventing the water from puddling around delicate stems and bulbs. Freezing water can cause stems to snap. Leaf piles provide insulation when tucked around plants and shrubs. And the leaves can serve another purpose, too.

The leaves shelter many insects, bugs, and other necessary life forms. Some bees burrow into the ground a few inches to hibernate with their hive. Leaves allowed to lie over the ground insulate the hive to survive the winter cold. As soon as the freezing is over, the bees wake and go on with their jobs of pollinating and making honey. And don’t forget, some bees, honey bees especially, are becoming endangered. You would be helping to protect the local environment.

Other invertebrate life also shelters within the bed of fallen leaves. Worms, bugs, and caterpillars spend winter among the leaves, insulated from the cold. Some caterpillars have their cocoons in the leaves, protected and warm for their amazing transformation. When spring comes, you can expect to see butterflies and moths work their way out from under their leafy blankets and explore your garden.

Get Your Cinderella On

Like squirrels, chipmunks, and mice, small mammals may also hibernate through the colder weather. Many smaller mammals hibernate on the ground with a thick covering of leaves pulled over them to make taking their naps safe and warm. We tend to think of these critters as possible nuisances, but their antics have amused us so often. Children love to see them chase each other across the yard and spiral up and down the trees to find a home. Our pets also seem to enjoy the antics of the squirrels and chipmunks. 

You probably have some other small mammals around, either part-time or full-time. These young critters usually love having piles of leaves to jump into and scatter. So make a deal with them – they can play in the leaves a half-hour for every half hour they spend raking and mulching. And, let’s face it, after an hour, they will probably lose interest and want snacks for their favorite tv show or movie.

You have probably been advised to rake your leaves off your lawns since they can cause puddles to form that will freeze and damage the grass stalks. And it’s good advice. But, your bedding plants need to be mulched before the cold sets in, as do the root areas of bushes, trees, and shrubs. If you have containerized plants that stay outside, they will also need mulch. Use the leaves as mulch once your lawn is raked, mounding it around delicate stems and trunks. Then, a generous application of fertilizer and leafy mulch can have your garden showing green in the spring without too much ado.

Some of the leaves could be ground and added to the fertilizer you are using to prepare your landscape for cold weather. The leaves come from trees that have been nurtured and fertilized – in much the same ways as the rest of your garden. This will help make them compatible with what you’re doing for winter. But leave some whole better to form protective mounds around your plants and bushes. The colors are beautiful and will blend well with the fall colors of your fall flowering plants.

If winter does bring snow to your garden, the leaf mounds will help insulate from that first chilly blast of snow. If you live somewhere where there’s a melting and freezing cycle, your bedding plants under the leafy mulch will stay at the temperatures that are safe for them for winter.

They All Can’t Stay, Though

Some leaves will have to be removed, of course. Kansas has a lot of wind due to flat land’s enormous vistas. This means trash and leaves from the streets and other yards will pile up against fences and outbuildings, as well as at the curb. This mix of trash and leaves will need to be raked, bagged, and removed. Unfortunately, it cannot be pushed into the storm drains because it could cause them not to work correctly. Backed-up storm drains could lead to backed-up sewers, which is a nightmare any time it happens. But if it happens in the night as a storm is howling around your house, it could cause extensive trouble. Most cities and towns have laws regarding waste disposal and how storm drains can be used.

And, please! Be very careful if you decide to burn leaves. Many local authorities frown on burning unless it’s an assigned burn day. If it is a burn day, you might see local police or sheriff cars cruising by to make sure nothing is getting out of hand. Have fire extinguishers handy and your hose ready to soak down a fire that might be a little larger or more enthusiastic than you feel comfortable. Safety first, of course!

Your lawn and landscape partners at Divine Lawns can help you with your leaf worries and can even handle the whole thing for you. They are aware of the local laws regarding leaves and how to manage them. In addition, they are knowledgeable about what can be removed for trash, what can be burned, and what will make helpful mulch.