The leaves are starting to fall. This means your lawn care instincts are kicking in, urging you to get out there and clean them up ASAP. But before you start mowing, blowing, and shredding, there are some great reasons to do otherwise.
Using wood mulch can be pricey and time consuming. So, why not use what nature provides for free? In the past we were told that leaves, matted down by snow or rain, would have a negative impact on plants. However, science has proven you can pile them in your gardens and around your trees and shrubs with no ill effect. A thick layer of leaves provides valuable organic matter, additional insulation against bitter cold weather, and the same weed suppression and moisture retention properties of shredded wood mulch. Plus, you can’t beat leaves for fall color!
Your yard = habitat
One of the best things you can do to support pollinators and helpful insects is to provide them with needed winter cover in the form of fall leaves and standing dead plant material. A vast majority of pollinators (bees, butterflies and moths) overwinter in the landscape as an egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, or adult. There are many other types of invertebrates that also call leaves home: spiders, snails, worms, beetles, millipedes, mites, and more. All these insects support the chipmunks, turtles, birds, and amphibians that rely on them for food. And pollinators are also key to growing crops that humans rely of for food.
While many homeowners opt for mulching their leaves on their lawn or shredding them for use in compost piles, shredded/mulched leaves will not provide the same cover as leaving them whole, and you may be destroying helpful insects along with the leaves.
If you have a spare corner in your yard, consider creating a leaf pile and allowing it to break down naturally. Or add leaves gradually to your compost pile over time. Such efforts will help keep beneficial insects safe.
I’m still buried in leaves!
So, you’ve saved all the leaves you can and still have a bunch left? Then you may need to mulch or send them offsite.
Late spring cleanup
If you decide to clean up the garden and remove the leaves in spring, make sure you wait until late in the season so as not to destroy all the life you’ve helped protect. A good rule of thumb is: if it is time to regularly mow your lawn, it’s probably a safe bet that most pollinators have emerged.