Quick: What’s the first thing you do when the leaves start to fall? My guess is you answered “Tell my son to get off his butt and get to raking!” Well, don’t let him read what I’m about to tell you: Raking leaves is actually bad for the environment.
Okay, well it’s not exactly bad, but by displacing leaves from where they naturally fell, you’re not doing your yard any favors, either. And it makes sense. Think about it: For hundreds, thousands, even millions of years, leaves went un-raked when they fell from their lofty heights. The whole idea of clearing your yard is a relatively new phenomenon, and the only reason we really do it in the first place is to make our yard look cleaner.
But by “cleaning up” our yard, we’re actually taking away from the natural processes that come along with crispy, dead leaves. Here’s what your yard misses out on whenever you remove those crunchy pieces of autumn from it:
1. Reduced Nutrients
Like I said, the Earth existed for billions of years before humans arrived, and trees have definitely been around for much longer than we have. Have we not realized that Mother Nature knows exactly what she’s doing? The fallen leaves keep the soil in a natural equilibrium over the cold winter months, enriching it so it can act as a home to a variety of plant life the following spring. By taking the dead leaves away, we deprive our yards of the nutrients it needs to produce grass and flowers the following year.
2. Reduced Protection for Wildlife
That birdhouse you bought for your backyard might be able to house a family of small birds, but the leaves on your front lawn can provide for hundreds of birds, squirrels, and other animals over the winter. Dead leaves provide valuable nutrients to the insects in your yard as well, which are an important part of the world’s ecosystem. By leaving your lawn as nature intended throughout the fall, you’re helping the rest of the animal kingdom survive the harsh winter that is to come.
3. Reduced Microbes
If you aren’t too familiar with what mulch actually is, it’s mostly made up of organic microbes that help keep your ground healthy by continuing the life cycle of the tiniest organisms. Of course, those who do mulch usually have a small mulch pile somewhere in the corner of the their backyard. But keeping a layer of leaves on your lawn actually turns your entire yard into a mulch pile. National Wildlife Federation Naturalist David Mizejewski says, “Fallen leaves offer a double benefit. Leaves form a natural mulch that helps suppress weeds and fertilizes the soil as it breaks down.” How many of you buy weed killer and grass seed in the spring? You wouldn’t need to if you didn’t rake your lawn.
What to Do Instead
Okay, I understand that once the dead leaves get all soggy it doesn’t look so aesthetically pleasing. But you do have some options that don’ require you to get rid of them completely.
We spoke of creating mulch, or composting. If you don’t want your entire yard to be a mulch pit, rake your leaves into the back corner of your yard where you won’t constantly be stepping on the soft, earthy compost. You’ll be doing your part, and your yard will look like you want it to.
Or you could rake the leaves into piles, then spread them over your garden or flowerbeds. By concentrating the leaves into the areas you want to flourish most, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor, and saving time, energy, and money in the long run!
Featured photo credit: The Autumn Leaves/ Linda D. via farm3.staticflickr.com