By mid-October, a mournful song of the golden-crowned sparrow sifts through the garden announcing the birth of autumn. By now, the days turn cool and dampish. The leaves cannot stop falling. A winter blanket is being laid by willow, maple, redwood and birch. The miracle of spring- born leaves now begins a new journey of fiery color and ultimate decay. They give us such gifts, those leaves falling.
Leaves are food: Not only do leaves feed people, — think nutritious salad greens, chard and spinach — they also feed earthworms, soil microbes, beneficial fungi and bacteria. These critters are the foundation of our food web.
Leaves provide shelter: Frogs, salamanders, snakes, overwintering butterflies, pollinators and many more all need fallen leaves for shelter. Leave a few on the lawn and rake the rest under the bushes in the shrub border. Mulch around trees with shredded leaves.
Leaves feed the soil: The most productive gardens use leaves to feed the soil. Fallen leaves shredded and mulched or dug into the soil add nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, carbon, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, copper, iron zinc and boron.
Leaves make a compost pile work: Fallen leaves are loaded with carbon, one of the primary ingredients that make a good compost pile work. Simply put, carbon is the brown material that provides energy for microorganisms that break down organic matter. The best way to add leaves to a compost pile is to shred them with the lawn mower before adding.
Terry Kramer is the site manager for the Humboldt Botanical Garden and a trained horticulturist and journalist. She has been writing a garden column for the Times-Standard since 1982. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.