Let’s just put this out there right from the beginning: I love trees, but they are messy. We are far from autumn, but If you have birches or tulip poplars, you will probably start to have leaves drop in the coming weeks when the temperature climbs. Once oaks and beech trees start losing leaves in the fall, they will continue to have them drop through most of the winter. Some trees like magnolias never really stop dropping their leaves. Then there are dead twigs, pollen, flowers, seeds, squirrel chewing, honey dew from aphids, and scale insects.
Without going into the nasty details, humans (or any animal) do not thrive living in their own messes. Being clean is part of being healthy. On the other hand, trees live well in their own detritus. Occasionally trees can have a leaf disease (which is when you should pick up leaves), but most of the time, the mess a tree makes just improves the soil it depends on. We do not clean up tree messes for them. We do it for ourselves.
If you live with trees, you need to deal with messes. You will either need to live with a certain amount of tree clutter, or be realistic knowing that you have a lot of work ahead keeping things tidy. The following are a few approaches to take:
A lot of people love the look of a finely-manicured lawn, with grass growing to the base of large shade trees. It is an impressive look. This is a high maintenance approach. Almost everything that falls from these trees is picked up. You will need to either spend a lot of time keeping your yard this way, or pay somebody to do it. If you don’t want to invest a lot of time or money in your yard, this probably isn’t for you. It can also be very challenging, and some say impossible, to have healthy trees and healthy grass living together like this.
Give the trees some area to be a little messy. The mulch will improve the soil around the tree. A few leaves, acorns and small sticks don’t look too bad in this bed, allowing a clean look without as much clean-up effort.
Dyed mulch has a lot of curb appeal when it goes down, but everything the tree drops shows up in the mulch bed. Non-dyed mulch blends may not be as striking, but they do not need to be cleaned out as much for a tidy look.
This is a naturalized look. It’s not neat and tidy, but it suits some people just fine. This is a lower-maintenance option. The forest mess will spill into the yard, but it is easy to rake or blow it back. You can choose how much you want to clean up the woods. If your wooded area has a lot of invasive plants, it may be a struggle to keep up an area like this.
Wood chips don’t look as nice as shredded mulch, but the varied texture of wood chips hide tree messes better than mulch. This lawn doesn’t get raked. All of the leaves, acorns, and small sticks get mowed along with the grass. This makes a fairly low-maintenance lawn where the grass looks okay, not great. If you want low-maintenance, you have to get comfortable with a little “distressed” look.
If you feel like you are fighting a losing battle trying to keep tree messes under control, it may be time to take a different approach. As you wander around Richmond keep your eye out. There are a lot of yards that look great without having every leaf picked up. You may be able to have a yard you love with a lot less effort if you get creative.