It’s fall in Los Angeles and that means the leaves are changing colors and falling to the ground. Many of our local trees are deciduous, which means they lose their leaves seasonally. Yes, we really do have seasons in LA! This lovely seasonal change means lots of gardeners are hard at work blowing leaves off our lawns and out of planting beds.
We’ve written about this before but we think it bears repeating. Leaf litter, as it is known in the trade, is not litter at all. It’s actually very beneficial to our gardens and trees. It’s a free by-product from our trees that are already cleaning our air and sequestering carbon to mitigate climate change!
“This organic material contains all the nutrients the garden needs,” Sabine Hoppner, arborist for the Hancock Park Homeowners Association told us last year when we interviewed her on the topic. Rather than collecting the fallen leaves and tossing them into the green trash cans headed for the landfill, Hoppner integrates them into the planting beds and spreads them around the garden.
“Leaf litter is an excellent type of mulch that you already have in your garden!” Hoppner told us. “Packing it up, hauling it away to the landfill, then buying mulch to replace it, is crazy and unsustainable!”
Fall leaves also provide excellent habitat and food for insects and pollinators, according to the Xerces Society, dedicated to protecting and preserving invertebrates.
“We suggest that leaves in garden beds and lawn edges be left whole. Where space allows, consider creating a leaf pile and allowing it to break down naturally, or add the leaves gradually to your compost pile over time. Such efforts will keep critters safe and allow you to benefit from the rich garden gift that falls from the trees above,” posted the Xerces Society.
Did you spot the other problematic practice in the top photo? Yes, it’s a gasoline-powered leaf blower. Despite being outlawed by the city of Los Angeles in 1998, they are widely used in our neighborhoods. Effective in January 2024, a new state law, Health and Safety Code section 43018.11, bans the sale of gas-powered leaf blowers to help achieve 100% zero emissions in California from small off-road engines (SOREs) by 2035. This summer, the Hancock Park Homeowners Association offered residents a $100 rebate for the first 100 Hancock Park residents when they show proof of purchase.
But even if you make the switch to electric, leaf blowers are still bad for the environment because they increase the presence of airborne particles, which may cause problems for persons suffering from asthma, hay fever, or other upper respiratory ailments. If must move leaves around, the best alternative is a rake, according to local garden designer Judy Horton, who insists that her gardeners use rakes. It’s also a much nicer sound and if you are the gardener, it’s good exercise.
Leaving the leaves makes a lot of scientific and environmental sense but it may not suit your aesthetic. A neat and tidy green lawn is a longstanding American tradition. But the more we learn about the impact of those practices on the climate and the planet, hopefully, our aesthetic evolves too. A carpet of leaves can be just as beautiful.