Leaf drop can be the bane of gardeners lives but they shouldn’t be the enemy. We only have to look at the cycle of woodlands to see that it’s all part of the circle of life. We don’t need to clear them up within an inch of their life.
If your border is full of shrubs and vigorous perennials you don’t need to clear away the leaves and could be doing more harm than good. Left in borders they provide a mulch protecting plants from frost. Leaves decompose into organic matter which keeps your soil full of nutrients and enhances soil structure. Light layers of leaves also suppress weeds. Birds, mammals and invertebrates use leaf litter for food, shelter and nesting.
Paths and driveways need to be cleared of leaves. Rotting leaves can become a slip hazard and rotting leaves in gravel will promote weed growth. Leaves that smother any low-level plants may need clearing. Heavy layers of leaves can prevent plants from self-seeding if you have a garden that uses a lot of annuals and biennials for interest. As slugs live in leaf litter, emerging shoots the following spring could provide a ready meal for them so clearing leaf litter around your Hosta can be beneficial.
Leaf drop from conifers can make your soil more acidic over time. If left the soil becomes more acidic over time and you can possibly plant a wider range of plants. Rotting leaves in ponds can provide feed for things we don’t want in our ponds like Duckweed. Once Duckweed has settled in your pond it is hard to remove but leaf litter under the surface provides it with nutrients it needs to flourish.
If you don’t like raking you can use a lawnmower if it collects cuttings. It assists in breaking down the leaves to get faster leaf mulch. However, you must consider that using machinery to pick up or blow leaves is bad for the environment. Petrol driven equipment causes pollution but even electric machinery leaves a carbon footprint.
We need to focus more on their benefits than getting rid of them simply for the way they look. So when doing the yearly leaf collection, consider whether you need to or not.