Every fall, people delight in the beautiful display of colour as trees go from green to stunning shades of red, yellow, and gold. However, the downside is that soon after comes the task of raking all those leaves.
Those looking to avoid – or at least delay – raking leaves can now cite the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which says we should let the leaves be.
Keeping a layer of leaves on the ground is a small act of conservation that can support backyard biodiversity in many ways, the not-for-profit land conservation group notes. Migratory birds and some butterflies head to warmer climes in the fall and winter, but many native insects (including pollinators) and other backyard wildlife, such as toads, hibernate through the winter, and can use some help from us.
“A couple of layers of leaves are good for pollinators, moths, and butterflies,” says spokesperson Andrew Holland. “It’s good for insects, which are an important food source for birds in the spring. …
“Having lots of species around is an indicator of the health of our neighbourhoods and communities.”
Leaves on the ground also helps improve the soil. As the leaves break down, they provide a natural mulch that enriches the soil. If you have too thick a layer of leaves, it can impact grass growth, but a light covering can improve the health of lawns and gardens.
“If you get a lot of leaves, put them under shrubs and trees away from the house, where they can protect the root systems of your grass and shrubs, and protect against the freeze-thaw cycle,” says Holland. “My mom is set in her ways and doesn’t like leaves, so we’ll blow them under shrubs, which is good for richness and helps stabilize the soil.”
He advises against leaving piles of leaves, but to just let them fall naturally, so as not to attract rats and mice.
The organization also encourages people not to clean up their gardens entirely, as plant stalks and dead branches provide important winter habitats for many creatures. Birds can also benefit from fruits and seeds left on trees, flowers, and shrubs, using them as a crucial food source to sustain them during winter.
Holland says that if you have a real Christmas tree, you can throw it in the backyard when the holidays are over.
“Birds can use it for warmth. That tree in the yard can be a warm habitat for some of those winter months. And some branches will break down and recycle back into your yard. Some people cut holes in the tree stump to accelerate the pace of decay as the tree breaks down.”
Holland admits that leaving the leaves might not work for all.
“I live on a corner lot with a storm drain out there, so I don’t want to have a bunch of leaves clog it up when there’s heavy rain and have water run up on neighbours’ properties. You have to exercise common sense. And clean up pine needles, because they’re very acidic and harmful for the soil.”
You may feel pressure from neighbours to have a pristine lawn, but he says leaving the leaves doesn’t mean never dealing with them. “By Mother’s Day, hopefully winter’s done, and you can pick up leaves for the spring yard cleanup.”