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Less is more when it comes to fall lawn care

01 September 2022, Bavaria, Kaufbeuren: An apple and an autumn leaf lie under an apple tree. September 1 is the meteorological beginning of autumn. Photo: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/dpa (Photo by Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/picture alliance via Getty Images)
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An apple and a leaf lie under an apple tree in Kaufbeuren, Bavaria, on Sept. 1, the meteorological beginning of autumn.

If you hate spending fall weekends cleaning up leaves in your yard, one Connecticut gardener has some simple advice: Don’t bother. Just leave them there.

“Leaves that are falling in your flower beds and the side of your yard … you don”t need to remove them,” said gardening writer Suzanne Thompson, who’s also coordinator of Pollinate Old Lyme.

Thompson said leaves are nature’s way of delivering free compost to your yard. So instead of spending hours bagging up each and every leaf, run your lawn mower over the leaves. That way, you chop them up and leave them on the ground to feed the soil.

But Thompson said that advice comes with a caveat: Don’t chop up all of the leaves. Leftover leaves serve a purpose. They are home to insects that birds rely on for a food source.

Also, don’t waste time deadheading all your flowers. ”In the winter, the dry plant parts that are poking up, the seed heads. That’s what feeds the birds,” Thompson said.

Early fall is a good time to do some planting, but check your soil first

One task you should do is test your soil to measure the pH level to see if you need to add lime. There are many online tutorials about proper pH levels, including a site set up by UConn.

Now that we’ve started to get some rain, it’s becoming a good time to plant perennials and replace a part of your lawn with a garden bed of native plants, Thompson said.

“I’m taking back a portion of my own lawn,” Thompson said this summer. “I've watched it dry out, and I’ve realized it’s never that sunny spot of my lawn, is just never going to be healthy grass.”

There are numerous free online sites to help you choose the right flower, bush or tree to plant.

The National Audubon Society offers a free online tool that lets you search by ZIP code for native yard plants to attract birds. The state of Connecticut also has a native plant guideline that suggests native options instead of ornamental plants, which typically are not as well-suited to sustaining Connecticut's wildlife.

Jennifer Ahrens is a producer for Morning Edition. She spent 20+ years producing TV shows for CNN and ESPN. She joined Connecticut Public Media because it lets her report on her two passions, nature and animals.