Northwood News ♦ December 2019
Rake If You Must, But Leave the Leaves
By Jennifer McGuire Cox and Eleanor Barkmeyer
This time of year, many of us are busy raking the leaves in our yard. But
you can help wildlife — and save yourself a lot of effort — by keeping
the leaves in your yard where they land.
What are the benefits of not raking leaves?
- Create Wildlife Habitat. Insects (including butterflies!), earthworms, toads, box turtles, salamanders, and even some bats often wait out winter in leaf litter. Some will lay eggs in the leaves and feed on the leaf layer. Birds and other insects also forage in leaf litter for food over the cold winter months. By raking or blowing leaves, you disrupt this natural habitat.
- Increase Beneficial Insects in Your Yard. By providing a natural habitat, you’ll increase the number of beneficial insects when it’s time to garden in the spring. This will help you and your plants!
- Increase Your Soil Health. Leaves can be used as mulch and are a great way, when tilled into the soil, to add organic matter and nutrients. You can use your lawnmower to mow them into smaller pieces as well as make smaller piles so that they will decompose more quickly. Organic matter in soils helps regulate soil moisture. Earthworms love soil with decomposed leaves, resulting in richer soil.
- Save Yourself Time. Depending on how big your yard is and the number of deciduous trees that are dropping their leaves, it can take hours over the course of several weeks to get them all. Wouldn’t you rather spend your time doing something else?
- Avoid Pollution Generated by Leaf Blowers. Unfortunately, not everyone has time to rake their leaves. By leaving the leaves alone, though, you can avoid the noise pollution of leaf blowers as well as the fossil fuels that power them.
No matter how much you might want to get out of raking your lawn, some leaf removal may be necessary. If you must rake, what can you do with the leaves in your yard?
- Composting. Leaves are great to compost as they are rich in carbon. Add to that grass clippings and other nutrient-rich materials and you’ve got potentially great organic material to garden with in the spring!
- Mulching. Leaves are easy to apply, effective, and free! Not only do they help maintain soil moisture and temperature, but they aid in preventing weed growth, soil erosion, and soil composition.
- Donate to Gardeners and Community Groups. Many community gardens and school programs do not have access to leaves for composting or mulching. Reach out and see if anyone needs some!
[Jennifer McGuire Cox is a naturalist at Brookside Nature Center and Maydale Conservation Park. She is also a certified Maryland Master Naturalist; she lives on Belton Road. Eleanor Barkmeyer is a volunteer at Brookside Nature Center.] ■