article by Kirstyn Gudknecht
This fall, we’d like to take one big chore off your to-do list. That’s right, no more raking leaves! Our habit of cleaning up our lawns has proven to be detrimental to our ecosystems in several ways, so here’s a peek into the benefits of leaving your leaves!
1. REDUCE WASTE TO LANDFILLS – When we bag our leaves and put them at the curb on trash day, they end up in a landfill taking up valuable space on a planet with far too much trash. According to EPA data, yard trimmings created about 34.7 million tons of waste in 2015, which is about 13% of all waste generation.
2. PROVIDE HABITAT FOR BENEFICIALS – Leaf litter is the habitat for many important and beneficial critters in your little backyard ecosystem. Moths, butterflies, salamanders, chipmunks, toads, earthworms, innumerable insects, beneficial soil microbes and others all depend on leaves for at least some part of their life cycle. Without insects in leaf litter, you risk driving away birds who may have trouble finding food for their young. Without beneficial soil microbes to protect them, your plants are more prone to disease and pests.
3. CAPTURE CARBON & BUILD SOIL – Trees pull carbon out of the atmosphere to use as the building block for leaves as well as bark, heartwood, roots etc. When leaves fall to the ground they create a natural mulch that over time is digested by beneficial soil microbes and is turned into soil. If you remove leaves from your yard, you are essentially removing soon-to-be bioactivated soil! Adding organic material like leaves to your soil helps it retain and hold moisture while keeping even the heaviest clay soils light and friable.Carbon is key to good growing!
4. MULCH & FERTILIZE MORE EFFECTIVELY – Leaves are nature’s perfect fertilizer for your lawn. The roots of trees tap into trace nutrients deep down in the subsoil. These valuable nutrients are accumulated in the tissues of the tree including the leaves. As fallen leaves break down, they release these hard-to-access nutrients and make them available to other plants and wildlife. Fallen leaves also mulch and cover up root systems, preserve soil moisture, and suppress weeds. They’re an excellent addition to your garden beds!
5. PROTECT OUR WATERWAYS – Removing natural fertilizers like those in leaves increases our reliance on synthetic fertilizers, which are harmful to our waterways when excess runoff causes algal blooms.
So what can we do with our leaves? Every backyard is different, so choose what’s best for you. Some great options are:
- Mow over the leaves regularly so they can break down and fertilize your lawn.
- Rake leaves into garden beds.
- Compost leaves as part of your regular composting routine.
- Look into local composting organizations that might pick up your leaves.
Let’s all rethink lawn care as ecosystem care and help support local ecology. Remember, our local food system depends on a healthy ecosystem!