Leave your Leaves

Bare The Flare! A brief instructional video on proper tree planting – provided by Organic Approach
January 2, 2020
Plant Small to Grow Big
December 2, 2020

Leave your Leaves


  1. In the forest, on a cool gray autumn day, a tree gives up some of its leaves. The leaves float gently down to the ground… and they stay there. The weather and the worms start breaking them down into smaller bits. The microbial life in the soil steps in and breaks the leaves down even smaller, reintroducing precious organic carbon to the soil. 


  1. In the city, on a warm September day, a diseased tree drops it’s scorched leaves six weeks early. The property owner walks through the threshold of their home that the tree used to shade so well, and dutifully begins raking the leaves up. The leaves are put into large paper bags and set out at the curb with the garbage. A large city truck comes by, burning fossil fuel, to collect the leaves. These leaves are destined for the landfill, where they will combine with other other organic materials to potentially turn into the greenhouse gas methane. The tree remains cold for another winter, and the homeowner considers the looming costly bill for it’s removal. 


Forgive me if these two situations seem rather blunt and assumptive, but they are supposed to draw a sharp juxtaposition between two uniquely different habitats. The irony is that the single largest difference between the two is the human touch! Three weekends ago I was blessed with the opportunity to go visit a friend of mine in Maine to do some trout fishing. We were on a remote river system near the Canadian border. As I wandered through the autumn woods, full of vibrant oranges, yellows and reds, I was struck by the thought that this was possibly the healthiest single system I had encountered in my travels. The river ran dark, like a glass of cold sweet tea, stained acidic by the phytochemical tannins of the diverse forest. With every footstep, the earth would give a full inch under my weight, and the sound of my feet through the forest was like that of a hide drum. Hollow. Oxygenated. Clean. Here I could breathe, and this is how a forest should be. 

In loose, carbon rich, oxygenated soils like the one described above, trees live better. Finer roots are able to stretch far through the loose substrate in search of water and nutrients. Trees are able to get very old here, and they form communities so that they can help each other out in times of need. The microbial life in healthy soil is so diverse that many pathogens are outcompeted before they can ever do serious harm in the environment. Sustainable. As a young tree care technician it strikes me that the primary challenge to nearly every sick tree that I work with is its habitat. Sterile. Dirt. Synthetic. Polluted. Our anthropogenic activity has contributed to the degradation of our soils in many many ways for a very long time, but I believe there is still time for us to not only learn from our mistakes, but to begin to correct them as well.

I believe that through better management of our soils, our urban forests can see a resurgence in our lifetimes. Healthier urban forests will prove more effective at defending themselves against diseases such as Bacterial Leaf Scorch and invasive pests like Spotted Lanternfly. A healthier urban forest would certainly increase our quality of life as well. Sustainable systems start from the bottom up. Be more like the forest – feed the microbiology.

This fall I encourage you to rake your healthy leaf matter back underneath your tree. If you believe that your tree is diseased and feel compelled to remove possibly infected leaf matter from the environment, that is fine, but you may want to consider applying a leaf compost under your tree as an alternative. Many municipalities across the nation have leaf composting facilities and recycling programs in place, and if yours does not, you may encourage them to do so! By putting leaves back under your trees, you not only insulate the soil and roots from harsh winter cold, but also feed the microbiology their favorite food- carbon! Contribute to healthy carbon cycling right in your front yard, and watch nature take its course. Oh, and if you really want to catalyze, kick start, and/or otherwise speed up these microbial decomposition processes to rebuild your soil, have a look at our product Finesse GVH. This granular vermi humus is the best microbe meal ever cooked up. It’s best applied in the fall, it’s on our website, and the price is right. 


Thanks for listening.


A healthy forest and river system in Maine