By Jade Greene
You’ve heard it every year – LEAVE THE LEAVES! But why is it so important to do this? Well, the majority of our native pollinators as well as other important animals do not migrate but overwinter right here. And where many of them do this? In the fallen leaves! Fall leaves provide important safe places, homes, and food for many animals.
Caterpillar, Moths, & Butterflies
Many, including swallowtails and luna moths, overwinter in the leaf litter in their chrysalis. Some caterpillars, like wooly bears, overwinter in the leaves. Mourning cloak butterflies lay eggs in the leaf litter. Removing the leaves destroys a generation of these vital critters.
Native bees and queen bumblebees hide in the leaf litter for the winter or create burrows right at the surface (within an inch or two). The leaf litter protects their burrows.
Have you heard that fireflies are in decline? You can help protect them by leaving the leaves. Firefly larvae overwinter in shallow burrows and rely on the leaf litter to protect their burrows.
Salamanders & Toads
Salamanders and toads find shelter for the winter in leaf litter, underground burrows (which are sheltered by leaves), or logs. Fallen leaves keep soil moist, just the way salamanders need it.
Many frogs take to bodies of water to hibernate in the winter but not wood frogs. Wood frogs nestle down into the leaf litter for the winter. Amazingly, their livers produce large amounts of glucose that coats the inside of cells and organs, preventing them from freezing completely but the outside of the frog’s body completely freezes.
Birds & Squirrels
Leaves, seeds, fluff, twigs all provide nesting materials for birds. Seeds and nuts fall into leaf piles, providing important nutrients for birds and squirrels through the winter.
Leaves protect the soil over the winter. As leaves decay, they add nutrients back into the soil. Leaves can help reduce weeds and retain moisture in soil.
Leaf Blower Emissions
Leaf blowers use an incredible amount of gasoline and create emissions. Studies have found that 4-stroke leaf blowers emit as much air pollution in 30 minutes as is generated driving a Ford F-150 from Texas to Alaska. These emissions include carbon dioxide and the even more potent greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide. Additionally, they are LOUD, generating sounds of 100 decibels that can be heard three football fields away. Try a rake instead.
It is ok to move the leaves! You don’t need to keep them on your lawn but you can designate a certain area of your property to leaves. Rake them into garden beds, around trees, or other out of the way areas.
Penn State Extension