Fall is here, and with it comes the promise of many autumn traditions—pumpkin spice, Halloween, and the annual raking of the leaves. It’s a chore that has been undertaken (and even enjoyed) by many over the generations. The leaves look beautiful as they fall, but everyone hoping to keep a pristine lawn that will look its best once the following spring comes will step outside to collect all of their leaves into a pile that will either be burned, shredded, or packed into plastic trash bags and dumped into a landfill. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is estimated that the generation of yard trimmings in municipal solid waste (MSW) was 35.4 million tons in 2018. This accounts for 12.1 percent of MSW generation in total. Aside from lowering the overall MSW generation, there are several benefits to foregoing this tradition and choosing to keep the leaves around through the winter season.
Leaves Provide Free Mulch
Leaf litter has excellent weed suppression and moisture retention properties, which means the trees provide free mulch for your lawn and garden every year. Many people wrongly assume that leaving the leaves on the ground will damage their grass and plants, but the opposite is true. These leaves will minimize weed growth in the following seasons, keep your greenery moist, and break down into a healthy natural fertilizer for your lawn and garden come spring.
However, there can be too much of a good thing. Natural ecosystems benefit from leaf litter that is around 2” deep, but this much coverage can be too dense for most standard turf lawns. A thin layer is highly beneficial, but if the layer is too deep, consider raking or using a specialized leaf vacuum to avoid damaging the leaves. Once they’re gathered, you can put them in piles around your garden, trees, shrubs, and perennials without issue.
According to the National Wildlife Foundation (NWF), many animals, including turtles, toads, birds, mammals, and invertebrates, use leaf litter in various ways, such as a source of food and shelter. Many pollinators overwinter or lay their eggs in leaf litter to keep them protected through the cold months. When leaf litter is shredded, burned, or bagged and tossed, it is taken away from wildlife that need it to survive and thrive. If you have put effort into making your landscaping wildlife-friendly, choosing to leave the leaves is a great option that helps to maintain a positive impact on your local environment.
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