What to do With Fallen Leaves

You shouldn’t feel obligated to rake up every last leaf in your yard this fall.  Leave leaves on the ground — they have a lot of benefit to wildlife and your garden.  Below are some tips on how to minimize the time you spend raking and maximize the benefit to wildlife and the greater environment that fallen leaves offer.

leaves

  • Just let leaves stay where they fall. A leaf layer several inches deep is a natural thing in any area where trees naturally grow. The leaf layer is its own mini ecosystem!  Many wildlife species live in or rely on the leaf layer to find food and other habitat, including salamanders, chipmunks, box turtles, toads, shrews, earthworms, many insects species.
  • Many butterfly and moth species overwinter as pupae in leaf litter.​ If you rake up and throw away all of your leaves this fall, you’ll be getting rid of these beneficial and often beautiful insects too. Remember, butterfly and moth caterpillars are a critically important food source for birds in the spring when they are feeding their babies. If you remove of all the pupae with your leaves in the fall, there will be fewer of these insects in and around your yard in in spring.
  • From a gardening perspective, fallen leaves offer a double benefit. Leaves form a natural mulch that helps suppress weeds and at the same time fertilize the soil as they break down. Why spend money on mulch and fertilizer when you can make your own?
Virginia Creeper leaves. Photo by Kelly Davenport.

Virginia Creeper leaves. Photo by Kelly Davenport.

  • If you must rake up your leaves, don’t throw them in the trash.  Compost them or drop them off at a municipal recycling center so they can be turned into compost that you and other members of your community can use in the spring. Some communities even offer curb side pick up of leaves specifically for municipal composting operations.
  • Avoid leaf blowers. They are loud and create noise pollution and rely on fossil fuels which pollute our air and contribute to global climate change. Use a rake instead. You’ll be able to hear the chirping of birds and other natural sounds while you’re working, plus you’ll get some good exercise!
  • If you just want a tidy look in your yard, or need to maintain one to comply with Home Owners Association rules, you can rake leaves off the lawn but still use them as mulch in your planting beds.  Put them in a big trash can and then shred them with a weed whacker to break them down into a finer textured mulch.

Remember, the less time you have to spend doing the back-breaking work of raking up your leaves, the more time you have to enjoy the gorgeous fall weather outside and the wildlife visiting your garden!

Certify Your Wildlife GardenAutumn is a fantastic time to make your yard wildlife-friendly by adding food, water, cover and a place for animals to raise their young!

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