More Problems with Common Landscape Practices

by Suzanne Ruggles

A. Leaf Removal

Leaves and plant litter are a vital part in the life giving systems that plants need in order to survive. Nature, in its infinite wisdom, has provided an incredible diversity of organism that make up the soil. They range in size from the tiniest one-celled bacteria, algae, fungi, and protozoa; to the more complex nematodes and micro-arthropods; the the visible earthworms and insects – all of which rely on plant litter to survive. As these soil organisms eat and thereby decompose the raw materials from plants, nutrients are converted from one form to another, and are made available to plants. All plants, whether grass, trees, shrubs, or agricultural crops, depend on

the soil food web for their nutrition. Furthermore, the existence of organic matter in the soil improves water and nutrient-holding capacity.

Hampton’s Cottage and Garden magazine, in its October 2007 issue, published an article called “Leaf Them Alone”, in which they state, “The mania for manicured gardens leads not only to monotony, but also to an overwhelming desire to indulge in too much cleaning up. So calm down. Don’t worry about every decomposing leaf and little needle that goes astray. Instead, introduce your head to the bigger picture. Consider the forest and how it regenerates itself. The trees and plants take care of themselves in a natural process that definitely does not include a fall clean up. What may seem like debris is actually a necessary kind of encouragement. The forest needs the forest floor – it is its natural carpet. Likewise, your garden needs that layer of funny seeds and pods and bits of bark.

Needle and leaf litter nourish the plants, shrubs, and trees you cherish, whether on a property that’s been around for generations or a brand new, ariviste garden. Both are equally hungry.” They go on to quote Ray Smith, their “All-seeing, all knowing Long island tree man”, as naming rakes, “tools of destruction.”

B. Deadheading and seed removal

Before the advent of commercial bird seed, birds and other wild animals survived on, among other things, seeds from native plants, and in actuality, these seeds are healthier for them than their commercial counterparts due to their seasonality, their freshness, their variety, and hopefully, in their lack of pesticides.

With common landscape practices, seed heads are removed because they are deemed visually unappealing. The result is less food for wildlife and more expense for us if we want to see and experience the joy of songbirds in our environments.

C. Dead tree removal and tree pruning

Dead trees are not really dead – they are a hub of life – providing homes for insects, birds of prey, songbirds, mammals, and for other plant life.