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  • Dan Connors

November is leaf month- why you should leave them on the ground.

November is National Banana Pudding Lovers month. Because just one day isn't enough for true banana pudding lovers. It's also National Diabetes month, National Healthy Skin month, and American Indian Heritage month. This month is also National Novel Writer's month, (the inspiration for this 30 in 30 challenge), and No Shave November- a challenge to men not to shave for the entire month to highlight men's health awareness. There are dozens of celebrations happening for the month of November, but for me it will always be Leaf Month.

In November leaves that graced our trees all summer and turned beautiful colors in October all decide to drop to the ground, leaving us with bare trees and piles of leaves everywhere. For much of my life, I found this a nuisance and tried to dutifully rake the leaves, putting them into bags and trash cans to be hauled away. I now realize how terribly wrong that was.

Leaves are blessings, not curses, and should never be allowed to leave your yard. This is because by removing your leaves every year you are disrupting a critical natural cycle that helps keep trees healthy in the first place. We tend to think of trees by just what we see. But underneath every tree is a mirror image, a system of roots that spread around the tree looking to soak up water and nutrients. In Spring it draws those nutrients out of the ground to grow new leaves. And then in Autumn it drops those leaves to the ground so that they can decompose and recycle themselves into new leaves. When you remove the leaves, you starve the trees.

Sure, you can go to the hardware store and buy tree spikes, fertilizer, and mulch to replace the leafy nutrients, but that's a waste of time and money and never as good as the real thing. People are starting to realize that it makes more sense to mow and shred the leaves into mulch and let nature take its course.

How did we get so down on leaves? It goes back to the 20th century obsession with lawns and lawn care. Lawns were copied from the British aristocracy as a status symbol. A big green lawn is seen as a necessity for homes and their property values. Leaves, in that context, are nothing short of litter- meant to be swept away as soon as possible so that the artificial green rug looks pretty. Even in the midst of deserts, Americans insist on keeping up their green lawns in defiance of mother nature. The lawn care business has grown into a multi-billion dollar exercise in fighting nature to keep up this facade.

Dead leaves and lawn clippings not only feed trees, they nurture flower gardens and lawns as well. Nature is cyclical, and it relies on organic material from past years to nurture future years. We add chemicals and cow manure at our own expense. Roundup, the most popular weed killer out there, has been implicated in all sorts of lawsuits as being a carcinogen. Our compulsion about lawns is literally killing us.

Admire the leaves while you can, and then respect nature and let them do their work. The last thing you want to do is have them end up in a landfill, mixed with all sorts of trash, where they will be cut off forever from the circle of life. Even if your yard waste ends up recycled by your city into mulch, you are in effect starving your trees so that your neighbors can use their food for free.

Fall is about letting go. The trees are letting go of the leaves that were critical energy factories all year, so that they can go into hibernation. As the days get shorter, colder, and darker, we humans have to let go of a lot of outdoor activities that we enjoyed in warmer months. We give thanks at the end of the month, and prepare for the cold winter ahead, knowing that Spring will sooner or later come back.

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