How Leaves Help Your Yard and Wildlife

How Leaves Help Your Yard and Wildlife

Published by Anne Altor on Nov 8th 2017

Tis the season to rake up the leaves?

Mowers are churning, rakes are raking, and lawns everywhere are looking green and de-leafed! But wait. Why are we sucking up leaf litter up into mower bags and putting leaves out with the trash? Despite common assumptions of suburbia, our yards can look great (or better!) when we stop taking away this seasonal bounty. And they can benefit wildlife rather than being green deserts.

leaf litter, leaves, soil, rake. Hawk standing among autumn leaves and grass. Hawk has yellow patch above beak and is looking at the camera.

Hawk. Photo by Dorian Krauss.

What are leaves good for?

I've been enjoying watching juncos foraging among the leaves in our yard. And hawks have been at our brush pile hunting smaller critters that fatten up in the dormant plants and leaves.  The return of leaves to the soil is an important part of natural cycles with many ecosystem benefits!

Leaf litter replenishes soil.

Mowing over leaf litter reduces it to small pieces, which helps it decompose faster. As the leaves break down, they return nutrients and organic matter to the soil. Soil does not get replenished on its own. In natural systems, the recycling of dead plant material is critical to renewing soil. Why buy fertilizers mined from far-away resources when your yard produces what it needs?

Dark eyed junco sitting on metal railing looking cute, with snow in background

Dark eyed junco. Photo by Nana Briere.

Leaf litter creates bird food.

Tiny spiders and other invertebrates make homes in leaf litter. Birds need these food sources, especially during fall and winter. And our own health is influenced by how welcoming our surroundings are to other creatures. An environment rich with pollinators and other invertebrates, birds, amphibians and life-giving plants is a healthier place for humans than one from which these beings have been removed.

Leaf litter helps keep weeds down.

Leaf litter reduces the amount of exposed soil, which helps keep weeds from popping up in spring. It also insulates the ground and provides moisture, structure and nutrients for beneficial soil organisms such as earthworms.

Instead of whisking them all away,

consider mowing your leaves and leaving the pieces along with the grass clippings. Your yard will not be smothered, it will be nourished.

If you're in a home-owners' association that requires raking up the leaves,

Move them to flower beds and around trees.
Use them to make leaf mold.
Make them into compost. Here are some tips for composting leaves.

Enjoy the rewards

of a healthier yard. Birdsong all year, butterflies in spring… let's appreciate that we're a part of nature! We belong in a diverse, interdependent community of beings that interact to create a healthy, functioning whole.

leaf litter, leaves, soil, rake. Wooden bench under large trees facing a field with shrubs. Golden leaves on trees, fallen leaves and sticks on the ground, an open woods in the background.

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