Leaves age gracefully and are often at their most beautiful at the very end of their lives. When the tree has taken in all the nutrients it needs, the skeletal leaves drift to the ground. Some people bag them up and leave them out for binmen like ordinary litter. The roads and cycle paths are normally raked clear by the council.
However, in many urban parks the leaves are left to lie where they fall. As with most things in nature, everything happens for a reason and nature’s recycling system puts ours to shame.
These leaves start to crumble and rot, creating valuable ‘mulch’. This soft, decaying matter covers the soil, helping it to retain moisture, suppress weed growth and improve the soil’s fertility over winter. It also encourages mycorrhizal fungi which love growing in dank, dark conditions. And trees love growing in soils rich in fungi. Unlike us, nature knows how to make the most of its waste.
Some gardeners say that a few months after piling up their leaves they get a crop of mushrooms as the leaves start to decompose. Initially fungi will get to work breaking down the leaves before handing over to bacteria which finish the job off and turn the leaves into compost – just in time for spring.
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