A new report found raking and bagging leaves could be doing a disservice to your yard or garden.
A National Wildlife Federation survey showed most people know throwing away their fall leaves is not ideal but they often do it anyway. Leaves on a lawn can serve as mulch. They keep the soil moist, suppress weeds, and cover roots to protect them in the winter.
Jim Bitner, executive director of the New York State Horticultural Society, is a fruit farmer who is always puzzled by seeing people bag their leaves. He described how they can use those leaves to benefit the soil.
“Shredding the leaves, hitting them with the lawnmower and breaking them into smaller pieces so they drift down through the mat, on the ground, below the leaves of the grass,” Bitner explained. “If you’ve got a whole lot, composting is a great way of handling them. On-site composting is not that hard.”
Bitner noted the common reason people remove their leaves is aesthetics, to have a neat and tidy-looking lawn. While 82% of people surveyed said they are willing to “leave the leaves,” 36% said they have to rake them, to comply with a city ordinance or a homeowner’s association.
Along with bolstering lawn life, fallen leaves can keep songbirds and insect populations up.
David Mizejewski, naturalist for the National Wildlife Federation, said pesticide-ridden yards are preventing species like the monarch butterfly from flourishing.
“The monarch butterfly is disappearing before our eyes,” Mizejewski pointed out. “In some years, their populations have been down by as much as 90% for the Eastern population, and for the Western monarch population, over 99%.”
He noted the leaf cover on a yard can be used by numerous bird species as they develop their habitat. The National Wildlife Federation finds most birds rely on butterfly and moth caterpillars in the leaf layer as their primary food source during nesting season. Removing fallen leaves means there will be fewer insects, and fewer birds, too.
Edwin is a reporter and producer in North Tonawanda, New York. He’s previously reported for the Niagara Gazette and the Ithaca Times. Edwin got an early start in radio interning for WBFO-88.7FM, NPR’s Buffalo affiliate. In 2018, he graduated from SUNY Buffalo State College with a B.A. in Journalism, and in 2022, graduated from Syracuse University with an M.S. in Communications.