I covered my flower beds with leaves over the winter. What do I do with them in the spring?
Thank you for contacting Toronto Master Gardeners.
There has been increasing interest in “leaving the leaves” in recent years, and for good reason. Leaf cover in your garden offers insulation and protection not only to plants, but also to beneficial insects that overwinter in the ground and in leaf litter. In spring as the weather warms up, the leaves will begin to decompose, gradually adding organic matter back to the soil in your flower beds. Leaves act as natural mulch, which helps retain soil moisture during summer dry spells and can also help suppress weeds.
A very thick layer of leaves can hinder the emergence of spring plants. You could gently rake or pull back the leaves in spots where bulbs and other spring plants are emerging.
Once the weather warms to consistent daytime temperatures in the mid-teens (Celsius), you can put the excess leaves in your compost bin or place them inside a plastic garbage bag. The leaves will decompose, and can be added back to the garden.
Note that waiting until the outdoor temperature warms up gives overwintering insects time to emerge before their winter protection is removed.
For more information, please feel free to visit the following links:
- Leave the Leaves (North Carolina Cooperative Extension)
- Why you should leave the leaves (David Suzuki Foundation)