The highest concentrations of soil microbial life and energy occur within the upper few inches of the soil’s surface. When we disturb and remove the organic matter covering the ground, such as leaves (as well grass clippings, which should be left on the lawn to enrich the subsoil, avoiding the need for fertilizers), we violate these fragile upper layers of soil activity.
Soil is alive with precious — might we say, sacred — invertebrate and microbial life and should not be left uncovered. Leaf litter covering the soil protects the upper layers of concentrated soil activity from harsh sunlight and moisture loss. As leaf matter breaks down, it introduce organic matter into the soil, improves aeration and water retention, stores carbon, feeds earthworms and beneficial microbes that enhance nutrient availability, and benefits valuable insect populations on which our birds and other wildlife depend. It is this top-layer soil activity that helps promote healthy habitats for our plants, insects and bird life.
Take away healthy habitats and all nature suffers. Disconnected private properties, denatured habitats, lack of native vegetation and poor land management (including barren lawn/privet monocultures) are largely responsible for the loss of close to 2 billion birds, close to 25 percent of all our North American bird life. Another study claims we have lost about 45 percent of our global insect population. Very alarming, as E.O. Wilson warns us, if insects “were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”
“Most of North America’s terrestrial bird species, some 96 percent, in fact, rear their young on insects rather than seeds and berries … Restoring viable habitat within the human-dominated landscapes that separate habitat fragments is the single most effective thing we can do to stop the steady drain of species from our local ecosystems” — Douglas Tallamy.
Besides the overuse of fertilizers, biocides, nonnative and nonproductive plants and trees, lawns and hedges, one of our most pernicious practices is the unnecessary use of exhausting (and good only for speedy convenience) gas-powered leaf blowers, with their awful, stress-inducing, high, whining pitch, noxious, oily gases, and all matter of dusty chemical and feces contaminated debris blowing high into the air we breathe. These nasty inventions pulverize delicate soil surfaces, blast out insect and microbial life, destroy surface soil viability, and basically violate another layer in nature’s complex intimacy and self sufficiency.
Many average homeowners have little to no knowledge of how to properly and sustainably maintain their properties. It falls on our local landscaping services to educate themselves on best sustainable practices to ensure that our local house-to-house habitats serve homeowners and the delicate micro ecosystems for which every property owner is ultimately responsible.
Leave the leaves.
One fine body…