Evergreens Make A Mess Too

Big evergreen trees make big messes.

Nature is messy. It is that simple. Leaves, flowers, fruits and stems regularly fall from vegetation onto the ground. Animals contribute their mess too. Insects and microorganisms seem to eliminate most of the mess. In reality, they merely accelerate the process of recycling the mess back into more mess. Decomposing organic matter sustains viable vegetation as it perpetuates the process.

Natural mess serves many other purposes as well. It really is an important component of ecology. It retains moisture and insulates the soil. Many plants drop foliage that inhibits the germination of competing plants. Many merely smother competing plants with their mess. Several, particularly locally, produce combustible debris to incinerate their competition in the next convenient forest fire!

Obviously, the sort of mess that is so beneficial in nature is not so desirable in home gardens. Even if weed suppression and moisture retention are appealing, combustibility is not! Neither is any mess that vegetation deposits onto hardscapes, roofs or lawns. Such mess becomes more apparent as deciduous trees defoliate this time of year. Most produced no other mess since last year.

As messy as deciduous trees are, they are generally no messier than evergreen trees. They just happen to defoliate within a very limited season, rather than throughout the year. Some evergreen trees shed more in a particular season, typically as new foliage replaces the old. Otherwise, they shed slowly and persistently throughout the year. The mess seems like less, but is just prolonged.

Both evergreen and deciduous trees serve their respective purposes. Evergreen trees obscure unwanted scenery all year. Deciduous trees provide cooling shade for summer, and allow warming sunlight through for winter. The misconception that deciduous trees are necessarily messier should not exclude them from home gardens. Deciduous trees are often the most appropriate options.

Every species and cultivar of tree is unique. Many deciduous trees actually are messier than some evergreen trees. However, most are not.

Leaf Litter Is Perfectly Natural

Mulch merely substitutes for leaf litter.

Forests lack gardeners. In the wild, there is no one to rake fallen leaves or blow them away. Foliage falls from trees and onto the ground, where it stays as it decomposes. It is the natural process. Raking and blowing leaf litter away is unnatural. It deprives the soil and organisms that inhabit it of significant organic matter that they crave. It also interferes with insulation and moisture retention.

Of course, there are some natural processes that are not so desirable in home gardens. After all, that is why raking and blowing is standard procedure. It is not practical to leave leaf litter on lawn, ground cover, pavement or roofs. Raking and blowing removes leaf litter from where it is unwanted, or at least moves it to where it is less visible. Leaf litter seems to be so useless and unwanted.

However, other procedures are necessary to compensate for the lack of leaf litter. Mulching insulates soil, retains soil moisture, and inhibits weed growth. Watering adjusts to deficient moisture in exposed soil. Weeding eliminates weeds that germinate and grow where there is nothing to inhibit them from doing so. Herbicide may be more practical. It is all so contrary to natural processes.

It is somewhat obvious why deciduous plants defoliate through autumn and winter. They do not need their foliage as much while days are shorter and sunlight is less intense. Also, they do not want to be battered by winter wind, or collect heavy snow. Yet, their desire to mulch their own soil is not so obvious. Evergreen plants do it also. They just do it slower, and generally throughout the year.

In fact, many evergreen plants are more efficient with their mulch than most deciduous plants are. Leaf litter of eucalypti, camphor, bay and nearly all conifers actually has a preemergent herbicidal effect. It inhibits germination of seed that can reach the soil. It can be a disadvantage for wildflowers, or an advantage for weed control. Incidentally, coniferous leaf litter is likely to be combustible.

Leaf litter, composted or left to its natural processes, is natural.