Why you shouldn’t rake your leaves this autumn

National Wildlife Federation says a layer of leaves is good for the environment and critters

Why You Don't Need To Rake Your Leaves, This Autumn.Temperatures have cooled, and leaves are changing all over the country.While it may seem counterintuitive, experts say that keeping fallen leaves in your yard is good for the yard and the environment overall.For one, fallen leaves supply nutrients back to the trees from which they fell.The leaves fall around the root zone of these plants, where they do things like suppress weeds or other plants from growing that would otherwise compete with the trees and the shrubs, David Mizejewski, National Wildlife Federation, via USA Today.They slowly break down and compost right there at the base of the tree or the shrub, right above its root zone, .., David Mizejewski, National Wildlife Federation, via USA Today.... where they return nutrients that the plant can then recycle and reuse next spring, David Mizejewski, National Wildlife Federation, via USA Today.Bagging raked leaves also adds more waste to landfills.At this time of year, unfortunately, a huge volume of leaves just go sit in those landfills and produce all this terrible greenhouse gas, David Mizejewski, National Wildlife Federation, via USA Today.The more we can keep that organic material out of the landfill, the better, David Mizejewski, National Wildlife Federation, via USA Today.Experts say that fallen leaves provide a food source for insects and worms, which are in turn sustenance for birds and other local wildlife.So, what happens if you get rid of every last leaf on your property? , David Mizejewski, National Wildlife Federation, via USA Today.You’ve just swept away and bagged up and thrown into the landfill the food source that the birds are going to need to feed their babies, David Mizejewski, National Wildlife Federation, via USA Today.Keeping leaves in your yard can be a great way to cultivate mini-ecosystems.Our own yards or our own gardens in our neighborhoods or communities are all opportunities for us to do something good for nature, David Mizejewski, National Wildlife Federation, via USA Today

The temperatures will drop and the leaves will fall. They always do.

Before you pull out the rake, however, consider this: Just leave the leaves where they fall.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, fallen leaves create their own mini-ecosystem.

“Many wildlife species live in the leaf layer as their primary habitat — including salamanders, chipmunks, wood frogs, box turtles, toads, shrews, earthworms, millipedes and many insects species,” David Mizejewski wrote on the federation’s blog.

Some creatures use fallen leaves to survive the winter. Luna moths, great spangled fritillaries and woolly bear caterpillars (which become Isabella tiger moths) spend the colder months in leaf layers — some as eggs, some as pupae and some as adults.

“If you rake up and throw away all of your leaves this fall, you’ll be getting rid of these beautiful and beneficial insects, many of which are pollinators,” Mizejewski wrote.

These insects are also a food source for birds feeding their young in the spring.

Many critters rely on fallen leaves to get through the winter.

Credit: Peggychoucair/Pixabay

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Credit: Peggychoucair/Pixabay

Beyond helping those creatures, you can help the environment and yourself by not bagging up the leaves and sending them to a landfill.

Yard wastes, including leaves and grass clippings, account for nearly a fifth (more than 31 million tons) of all garbage generated in the United States each year, making it the second largest component of the municipal solid waste stream, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Because leaves and grass are relatively clean and biodegradable, EPA states, there is no reason for them to be in a landfill.

Instead, replace your mulch with leaves. Using leaves will “help to enrich your soil, lock in moisture and protect your plants,” according to hortmag.com. It’s important to shred the leaves, however. You can do this with a mulching mower, shredder or leaf blower on the vacuum setting. Experts say a thin layer of unshredded leaves is fine, but if it gets too thick it will prevent air and water from reaching the soil.

Yard refuse, such as leaves, grass clippings, straw, and non-woody plant trimmings can be decomposed, the University of Georgia Extension states on it website. The dominant organic waste in most backyard compost piles, it says, is leaves.

Leaving the leaves will save wildlife, the environment and, possibly, your back, which are three good reasons to limit your raking this autumn.