Unless you’re raking a pile of leaves to jump in, it isn’t much fun. And, a large yard with a lot of trees means all day raking. So, if you’re not looking for free mulch or to compost leaves, scientists suggest leaving them alone to benefit wildlife and the garden. Yes, let the leaves be.
Benefits Of Not Raking Leaves
1. Wildlife Habitat of Leaf Litter
The National Wildlife Federation states: “The leaf layer is its own mini ecosystem!”
The leaves are a natural habitat for butterflies, salamanders, chipmunks, box turtles, toads, shrews, earthworms and others. They lay eggs in the leaves and feed on and under the leaf layer. By raking or blowing leaves, you disrupt their life cycle and eliminate beneficial insects.
Start peeling the layers back of a leaf pile, and see all the wildlife.
2. Increase Beneficial Insects
By providing a habitat, you increase the population of beneficial insects for gardening season. When leaves are removed from the yard, automatically you’re decreasing beneficial insects that are your friends come growing season.
3. Increase Soil Health
Add leaves as a mulch to decompose or till into the soil to add organic matter and nutrients. Organic matter in soils will help regulate soil moisture. Also, earthworms love soil with decomposed leaves. In fact, if you’re looking for earthworms, scrape back to the bottom layer of leaves and you’ll be amazed.
4. Avoid Pollution from Leaf Blowers
Let’s face it, not everyone has time to rake. If you let the leaves be, you can avoid noise pollution of leaf blowers and fossil fuels to run them.
5. Save Time
Depending on yard size and the amount of deciduous trees that are in the yard will determine the hours it will take to rake. But, one thing is for sure…count on hours and often a weekly chore until all leaves have fallen. Do you have time for that?
6. Reduce Waste
According to the 2013 Environmental Protection Agency’s Report, Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures, 28 percent of household waste was food and yard trimmings. Prevent waste by letting leaves be, or carefully moving them to create wildlife habitats.
How to Use Leaves from the Yard
No matter how much you want to get out of raking your lawn, some may be required by Homeowners Associations to remove leaves. Or, you may live in a high-risk wildfire area, where leaves are a fire hazard. Here are ways you can use leaves to benefit your garden, wildlife conservation effort, and community:
Want a successful garden? Use compost. Leaves are great to compost as a carbon rich material. Be sure to add nitrogen materials to the pile like grass clippings or manure. For step-by-step instructions, read this Composting Guide: Using Leaves for Composting.
Leaves are easy to apply, effective, and free! Leaves are successful in maintaining soil moisture and soil temperature, and preventing weeds, soil erosion, and soil compaction.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension suggests leaf mulch for:
Trees and shrubs: 3-6 inch layer shredded leaves
Flower beds: 2-3 inches shredded leaves
Vegetable Gardens: thick layer for weed prevention in beds or between garden rows for walkways
Yards: mow leaves to shred and remain on lawn
3. Save Leaves for Next Season
Bag and save leaves for compost, mulch or the garden. Come spring you’ll be excited to have leaves to use.
4. Leaf Mold
Leaf mold is different than composting. Leaf mold is a soil amendment produced when a pile of leaves decompose. Nitrogen ingredients are not added to the pile, as you would compost.
Leaf mold improves soil moisture retention and is often used as mulch or tilled into the soil. Leaves, by themselves, take 6 – 12 months to break down.
5. Donate Leaves to Gardeners or Gardening Programs
Try looking for urban community gardens or schools with learning classrooms to donate your leaves. Many times they do not have access to falling leaves and would appreciate the donation.
6. Wildlife Habitat: Brush Shelter
Use leaves in brush shelters to build wildlife habitats. Build the wildlife shelters for an animal about the size of a rabbit. You’ll be amazed the variety of wildlife resides in brush shelters.
Start with a bed of leaves and place logs or larger branches on top of them. Stack somewhat of a dome with tree limbs, decreasing the branch size as it gets higher. Fill the structure with leaves for added shelter and to shelter the insects and pupae on the leaves. You might even see animals, like chipmunks, running away with leaves for their nest or toads hibernating in leaf litter.
Don’t want a large wildlife habitat? Just move the leaves on the lawn to the corner to create leaf pile for wildlife and use the leaf mold as it decomposes.
Collect leaves to make fall collages, leaf prints, or to decorate your home. Fall leaves make a great table centerpiece.
According to WebMD’s Fun and Fit Family Guide, raking and bagging leaves on average burns 350 – 450 calories per hour. Add jumping in a leaf pile (and raking it again) for more fun and exercise.
Don’t want to clean up your yard at all?
You may be in luck. Take this one step further and read Before You Clean Up Plant Debris, Consider the Benefits of a Messy Yard. One plant in this article houses 31 different species of insects. It’s a strong argument for gardeners to wait until spring to clean plant debris.