Falling Leaves

I love fall. It is my favorite season of the year. When I was a kid I loved walking to school so I could kick the leaves on the sidewalk. The sound and feel of the leaves crunching under my feet and the smell it generated was pure bliss. Then I grew up, got a car, and slowly forgot about my childhood passion.

We strive for cleanliness.

We don’t think about nutrient cycles. We tend to think of well manicured lawns free of weeds, clippings and leaf litter. We think of flower beds voided of plant material in the fall – neat and tidy all tucked in ready for winter. We cut plants down, we rake the leaves, and catch the grass. All of that organic material is bagged, placed on the curb and hauled off to.

Nature isn’t clean.

Every spring we go to the garden center and we are faced with more options of fertilizers than we know what to do with. Bone meal. Fish meal. Seaweed meal. Acid fertilizer. The list is exhausting. We pick something up and we put it on our lawns and landscape because we believe it is the thing to do.

The cycle repeats.

As a kid I would find roly-poly, worms, millipedes, and other fun creepy-crawly things tucked away under leaves in the corner of the yard. I didn’t know what they were or how important they were to nutrient cycling. Today we strive for cleanliness. We have a perceived notion that a dirty or unkempt yard is a reflection of who you are. Home Owner Associations inflict strict rules and fines for a messy yard. Garden magazines tell us that a clean landscape is the thing to have.

We want Instagram worthy yards.

We know the water cycle. We don’t know the nutrient cycle. We know we can buy fertilizers. We don’t know that plant material is free fertilizer. Stop bagging your lawn clippings and mulch them. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln turf grass program tells us that we can return up to one pound of nitrogen to the lawn just by mulching grass clippings. They also tell us that we can return complex nutrients back to the ground from fallen leaves if we mulch them in. Mulching grass clippings and leaves will not contribute to thatch build up.

We know from multiple studies that important pollinating and other beneficial insects will overwinter in dead plant debris. We want to save the bees and butterflies. In order to do so you need to step away from the flowerbed and let it get messy.

Mother Nature isn’t clean. Instagram worthy landscapes will not save the bees. Stop breaking the nutrient cycle and return plant material back to the ground where it came from. And start enjoying the sound of crunching leaves under your feet again.

Scott Evans
Scott Evans is a horticulture assistant with Nebraska Extension in Douglas-Sarpy Counties. A certified arborist through International Society of Arboirculture and Nebraska Arborist Association. Scott is also Tree Risk Assessment Qualified through ISA. Scott co-leads the Master Gardener program in Douglas & Sarpy counties. Along with volunteer management he provides his expertise with disease and insect identification, lawn and landscape weed management, plant health, and I.P.M. practices. He also enjoys growing many houseplants ranging from African violets to cacti and succulents. Scott has two Bachelors of Science, one in Biology (emphasis in Botany, Ecology and Environmental Science) and second in Environmental Geology from Northwest Missouri State University. He earned his Master of Agriculture from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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