It’s time once again for families to go on a cleaning expedition in their fall garden, but there is great value in keeping fallen or dead leaves where they are and not raking them into piles for disposal.

According to conservationists such as the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), raking leaves destroy the habitat of many wildlife species and rob gardens of critical nutrients.

Their call? “Let fallen leaves stay on your property,” advised David Mizejewski, a naturalist from NWF.

According to him, it's a missed opportunity to turn leaves into solid waste, as they offer the double benefit of serving as a natural mulch for suppressing weeds and fertilizing soil. Gardeners can save on buying these necessities by making their own.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency noted that leaves and other yard matter form a staggering 33 million tons or over 13 percent of the country's solid waste per year. Landfills with solid waste are the largest contributor to manmade greenhouse gas methane.

Wildlife habitat, Mizejewski added, is also harmed when leaves are removed.

Mammals, birds, insects, and other creatures depend on leaves for their food as well as nesting and shelter. Before coming out in spring, many moth and butterfly caterpillars overwinter in those leaves lying on the ground.

An appreciation of nature is another simple incentive for leaving the leaves alone. “The less time you spend raking leaves, the more time you’ll have to enjoy the gorgeous fall weather and the wildlife that visits your garden,” David Mizejewski added.

Here are his tips for dealing with fallen leaves – other than raking and hauling them off to landfills!

  1. Let them stay where they fall. The lawn probably would not mind if one chops the leaves using a mulching mower.
  2. Rake leaves to be used as garden bed mulch. Shred the leaves first for a finer texture.
  3. Leave piles of leaves to decompose, where the resulting mold can be beneficial for enhancing the integrity and water retention of soil.
  4. Create compose by combining fallen leaves, grass clippings, and other “green” material. Keep them well-mixed and moist for a nutrient-dense compost for the next spring gardening adventure.
  5. Share the leaves with friends, neighbors, and the community.
  6. Form a brush shelter using the leaves, sticks, branches, and stems for the benefit of native wildlife.
  7. Avoid using leaf blowers. “They are loud and create noise pollution and rely on fossil fuels which pollute our air and contribute to global climate change,” warned Mizejewski.

To tidy up one’s yard or comply with specific homeowners’ association rules, one can still rake leaves off the lawn – but use them for purposes detailed in the list above.

Photo: Michael Whyte | Flickr

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