Create a Circle of Leaves

Tree Care 101: Fall – Dress Up, Feed and Winterize

By Stephanie Coffin, longtime Virginia-Highland resident, tile mosaic artist extraordinaire, and certified arborist

20161106_135132Trees naturally recycle nutrients by dropping their leaves, soon to decompose and add to the soil around the tree. Unfortunately, humans interrupt the cycle by blowing or raking the leaves into piles, then bagging and putting them on the curb far from the reach of the tree! Help – this is slow tree starvation. 

Leaves, when left in place, also help keep the soil warm during the winter and act as a cushion to resist compaction of the soil. So, here’s an idea:

Rake the leaves around your tree and pattern them in a circle around your tree as deep as you can. Make an outside and inside border for your circle if you want a more formal look. You can also dress up the circle by adding colorful leaves on top in a pattern.  For example, arrange yellow and red leaves in alternating concentric circles. If you have young helpers, the leaf raking becomes an opportunity for leaf identification, as well as an art project. 

I have a Big Leaf magnolia in my yard.  I always collect the leaves and make a zigzag pattern on top of my flower beds. Nice. Kids pick them up and they become leaf swords. Touche! 

20161106_135529Keep the leaves from touching the tree trunk directly to avoid a wet mass that encourages mold and introduces pathogens. Start the inner circle about two feet from the trunk. Wet down the leaves to hold them in place or, better yet, throw come composted manure on top of the leaves.  Dessert for the trees!  The leaves will fairly rapidly decompose, so they are likely not to just blow away.

Take a look beyond your yard to the trees that grow in the city right-of-way. You can create small art circles around the trees up and down the street. Tree happiness.

Leaf blowers throw dust and dirt in the air. Especially now in a time of drought, the dust in the air adds to allergies and fine particle pollution, not to mention noise pollution that impacts the whole neighborhood. Raking leaves is an enjoyable way to change a modern day practice that is so annoying and ecologically destructive. 

Try this new look in your yard and along your street. Send in a photo of your leaf art for us to share.

The VHCA has asked me to write a few articles passing on information about tree care. If you have tree care questions, drop me a line at and I will try to answer them.

Stephanie Coffin, ISA Certified Arborist, living in one of the most beautiful tree neighborhoods in the ATL. Graphic images in this article courtesy of Stephanie Miller.  

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