Leave the Leaves, Turn Out the Lights

Most people are aware of the global biodiversity crisis, the shocking declines of insects, birds, and other animals, yet many don’t connect it with life in our comfortable suburbs. Because everything is connected, what we do at home is more important than you might think. Anyone with a house and yard can take two actions that will immediately increase biodiversity by helping the creatures that share our neighborhoods: leave the leaves and turn out the lights.  I’ve never understood why sensible people would remove autumn leaves from under their trees and bushes, only to then pay good money to add mulch and fertilizer. Fallen leaves are nature’s combination fertilizer and mulch, full of exactly the nutrients trees and shrubs need. And regarding “messiness,” nobody walks through the forest preserves in autumn wishing someone would clear out all those darn fallen leaves. Those leaves are what make the outdoors comfortable for many animals, providing shelter, food, and habitat. Fireflies d

Soil Health

Successful ecological gardening depends on healthy, living soil. Good practice also helps turn your garden into a carbon sink. I have posted about this before and will again, but here is a cheat sheet of tried and true suggestions that give good results.

Good Gardening Practices that Will Build Soil Health and Store Carbon
• Don’t use synthetic fertilizer (or herbicides or pesticides).
• Use organic fertilizer very carefully.
• Make compost and use it.
• Let fallen leaves decompose naturally under bushes and trees.
• Let pruned branches decompose naturally under trees and bushes.
• Allow duff to build naturally around bushes and trees.
• Put raked leaves in compost or start a separate leaf-mold pile.
• Don’t cultivate or till established beds if at all possible.
• Put down an inch of compost on beds in spring.
• Use organic mulches such as wood chips judiciously (I usually put down a thinnish layer over compost).
 • Grow native plants and wait until spring to cut down (or burn, if feasible): many have seeds birds love, and many will reseed themselves in fall and winter).
• Put cut-down stalks in compost or chop and leave in beds around plants.
• Reduce lawn to necessary areas (such as the croquet green, soccer pitch or picnic area).
• Top dress your small-as-possible, polyculture lawn with finely sifted compost in fall.
• Make new beds in summer or fall by mowing grass, putting down six layers of newspaper, wetting it, and topping with two to four inches of wood chips. Ready to plant in spring.
• Add compost to planting holes when putting in new plants.
• Reduce your power tool use.
•Make well-defined paths and use stepping stones to reduce soil compaction.