On the forest and the trees

Woodland stewardship & what to do with leaves

Two roads diverged in the wood, and so, I took one on the first day and another the second.

On the third day, I cut a path through the prairie. There I found aster in shades of pink, purple and white, cloaked in dogwood, with a garland of Virginia creeper.

By then, a fourth day had passed and I no longer recalled the way out of the wood.

Ages and ages hence, they will wonder what ever came of that girl with the red hair who like to talk so much.

I went off into the wild on a beautiful fall day. And that was what made all of the difference.

Fall has now completely, absolutely and officially arrived in a blaze of scarlet leaves, forty-pound pumpkins, and cinnamon spice. The changing colors turn our gaze upward and cause many Minnesotans to ponder the forests and the trees.

What to do with leaves

What if someone told you that you could skip raking your leaves this fall? It turns out that raking leaves off of your lawn can actually be counter-productive.  “The leaves have organic matter in them,” explains Sam Bauer, Executive Director of the North Central Turfgrass Association. “You’re adding good organic matter to your soil when you’re not picking them up.” Instead of raking, Bauer recommends that you mow your lawn a few times as the leaves are falling to break them up into little pieces that will decompose more rapidly. If you have a very heavy coating of leaves, you may need to remove some and add them to your gardens or compost pile, but the rest can be shredded and left where they are.

In garden and woodland areas, fallen leaves create important habitat for small animals, including salamanders, toads, luna moths, and fireflies. A blanket of leaves also helps to maintain soil moisture and protect plants during the winter.

The one place we don’t want leaves, is in the road. Leaves contain high amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus, which can contribute to algae blooms when these nutrients leach out into stormwater that flows to rivers, lakes, wetlands and streams. In other words, rake the road, not your yard.

Managing woodlands for resiliency

Our local woods and forests exist in a constant state of change. As the Twin Cities region grows, farms give way to houses and new roads appear, bisecting the land. Each new edge creates an opening for invasive species such as buckthorn and garlic mustard to creep in. Warmer winters allow new pests to thrive and changing climate patterns create winners and losers among our favorite trees.

October offers three opportunities to learn more and get involved in efforts to create more resilient woodlands.

  • Woodland Workshop: Wednesday, October 20 (6-7:30pm): The East Metro Water Resource Education Program and Wild Rivers Conservancy of the St. Croix and Namekagon will co-host a free online seminar for woodland landowners. Speakers Danielle Shannon (Michigan Tech University – Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science), Tara Kelly (Washington Conservation District) and Kristina Geiger (Minnesota Land Trust) will talk about managing invasive species, improving habitat for wildlife, and protecting natural areas from development. Register online at tinyurl.com/woodlands2021.
  • Volunteer event: Saturday, Oct. 9 (9am-noon) in Cottage Grove: Friends of the Mississippi River is seeking volunteers to help restore oak savanna along the river in Cottage Grove. A light breakfast and catered lunch are included and all tools, protective gear, and gloves are provided. RSVP to Sophie Downey at sdowney@fmr.org or 651-222-2193 x27.
  • Volunteer event: Saturday, Oct. 23 (9:30am-noon) in Lake Elmo: Friends of Sunfish Lake Park is seeking volunteers to help cut buckthorn and re-seed native plants at Sunfish Lake Park There will be a lunch of buckthorn-roasted hot dogs, chili, chips, cookies, coffee, and cider. RSVP to George Johnson at gjohnson2020@gmail.com or 651-757-5610.