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Autumn foliage - what should be done with it?

When trees lose their colourful autumn cloak and the ground slowly becomes covered with multi-coloured leaves, the question is 'What should I do with all the foliage? Can it just be left there or does it need to be removed?"

Wet leaves are dangerous if they are left lying on a patio or paved areas to form a slippery brown carpet. For this reason, leaves should be cleared from all pathways.

Fallen leaves should also be removed from tender shoots, grass, evergreens and the lawn since the plants may react to the damp leaves by rotting. The lack of light gives rise to unsightly brown patches on the lawn.

But leaves are not unwelcome everywhere. A layer of up to 10 cm can be allowed to accumulate under trees, bushes, shrubs and on cleared flower and vegetable beds, for example. Ideally, the leaves should be gently worked into beds using a garden claw and covered with some soil so that they don't get blown away and so that the decaying processes is accelerated. Taking these steps will ensure the rapid formation of fresh, rich humus which will help the plants flower in all their glory again next spring. The fast rotting leaves of flowering shrubs and fruit plants are best suited to this procedure, which is known as ground composting. With this extremely sensible method of using large quantities of leaves, the nutrients in the leaves and cuttings act as ecological fertilisers. A covering of leaves over the plants keeps them warm and insulated and protects them from cold temperatures. Don't forget to remove any remaining leaves in spring, though, to allow the plants access to sufficient fresh oxygen and sunlight.

Another good idea for recycling leaves is to make hedgehog nests. By doing this you will help to protect these animals, since hedgehogs are already on the endangered species list in some European countries, mainly due to all opportunities for hedgehogs to make nests and find shelter being removed as a result of meticulous clearing-up work in gardens.

So why not make a small pile of leaves and thin twigs? This small animal, which is active at twilight and during the night, will certainly pay you back in kind. Larvae, earthworms, spiders and snails are right at the top of the menu for this little gardener's helper. So hedgehogs can help you keep part of your garden free from insects and bugs. And since hedgehogs aren't keen on vegetables, you don't need to worry about your fruit or vegetable beds!

Autumn leaves are therefore not just inconvenient waste which we need to remove from our gardens. Quite the opposite, in fact: With the right tips and tricks you can save a lot of money on humus and fertiliser and you will be taking a active role in the protection of animals by giving hedgehogs a cosy home to live in.