As we head into Autumn we watch the leaves change color and eventually fall to the ground. The season for ‘leaf peeping’ is far too short where I live. This year the trees seem to be turning color earlier than usual. This isn’t really a problem, but it does mean we will have more weeks with only bare branches to look at until next spring. Many of us grew up with the chore of raking leaves, but found a way to make it fun, by building big piles and jumping into them. Those days are past and now in many places you must rake and bag your leaves for curbside pick- up. There’s not much fun in that but I am here to tell you that leaving the leaves on the ground is actually a good thing if you are someone who loves bird watching and would like to have more birdfood available.
Leaves that are left on the ground rot and become a free fertilizer, and they also provide a place where bugs can live and birds can find food. Living in undisturbed leaf litter are things like moth pupae which can be an important food source for many birds, at a time when other sources of food are becoming scarce. It is OK to be a bit messy with your lawn, but if you just aren’t comfortable with this laissez faire attitude, consider raking some of the leaves and putting them in the compost pile, or use them as mulch for the garden beds. Mowing over the leaves also is a way to add nutrients to the grass. By practicing this form of lawn maintenance, you can avoid the use of chemical compounds that some people use in the fall, in order to cut back on crabgrass and other unwanted vegetation.
Of course one way to cut down on lawn work is to plant more native trees and shrubs. They not only add beauty to your yard, but they provide lots of food in the form of fruit, nuts or seeds. Fall is a good time to plant sumac, dogwood, flowering crabs and hawthorns because they add color as well as fruit for the birds. In most cases these native trees and shrubs don’t require chemical fertilizers. Whenever we can garden without chemicals we are helping the birds and so many other creatures. To learn more about native trees and shrubs for your region check out this Audubon site.
If you grew sunflowers, coneflowers, or Black-eyed Susans, don’t cut them down at the end of the season because they are a ready food source for the birds. The seeds may be small, but they are available through the winter. If you have planted native species of grass, like big bluestem or gramas you have provided another type of bird seed. There are other types of plants that you can leave standing because they may contain wasp or fly larvae, like those found in goldenrod galls.
Continuing with the idea of providing food and shelter for the birds, consider building a brush pile. It doesn’t have
to be large, but any pile of branches and sticks will provide shelter for the birds in the coming cold months. Black-capped Chickadees and Dark-eyed Junco’s are a couple species that often find shelter in brush piles, which can also protect them from predators. This is where you might toss the Christmas tree once the holidays are over. Left alone, brush piles gradually decompose, so that you can add more material over time.
Autumn can be beautiful in any part of the country. Give yourself a break and be just a little bit lazy so you can enjoy it to the fullest.
By Kate Crowley