Fall Clean-Up

Conservation Group Encourages People to Leave Their Leaves on the Ground

Text and photos from The Nature Conservancy of Canada

The information included in the following press release is essentially the same as I presented in a recently published article—Don’t Clean Up Your Garden in the Fall—but maybe gardeners concerned about the environment will be even more inclined to accept it when a reputed environmental organization presents it!

Fall is here and so is that dreaded chore—or is it?

One of the most beautiful aspects of fall, the changing colour of leaves, comes with an onerous task: raking them all up. The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), however, has some green advice for people wishing to avoid backbreaking yard work: leave the rake in the shed and the leaves on the ground.

The not-for-profit land conservation group says leaving fallen leaves in your yard is a small act of nature conservation that can support backyard biodiversity in many ways. While migratory birds and some butterflies travel to warmer destinations, many native insects, including pollinators, and other backyard wildlife hibernate through the winter—and can use a little neighbourly help.

 Dan Kraus, NCC’s senior conservation biologist, says leaves can provide important habitat for many species to hibernate underneath.

“Backyard animals, such as toads, frogs and many pollinators, once lived in forests and have adapted to hibernate under leaves,” says Kraus. “The leaves provide an insulating blanket that can help protect these animals from very cold temperatures and temperature fluctuations during the winter.”

Another benefit of not raking your leaves is soil improvement. Kraus points out that as leaves break down, they also provide a natural mulch, which helps enrich the soil. Thick piles of leaves can impact the growth of grass and other plants, but a light covering can improve the health of our gardens and lawns. 

As the leaves break down, some of their carbon also gets stored in the soil, allowing your backyard to become a carbon sink. “While it’s great for cities to provide collection programs to compost leaves, the most energy-efficient solution is to allow nature to do its thing and for the leaves to naturally break down in your yard,” says Kraus.

And it’s not just leaves that are important for backyard wildlife during the winter. “Plant stalks and dead branches also provide habitat for many species of insects,” says Kraus. “By cleaning up our yards and gardens entirely, we may be removing important wintering habitats for native wildlife in our communities.

 “Migratory and resident birds can also benefit from your garden during the winter. Fruits and seeds left on flowers and shrubs are a crucial food source that sustains many songbirds during the winter, including goldfinches, jays and chickadees. Providing winter habitats for our native birds and insects is just as important as providing food and shelter during the spring and summer.”

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is the Canada’s leading not-for-profit, private land conservation organization, working to protect our most important natural areas and the species they sustain. Since 1962, NCC and its partners have helped to conserve 14 million hectares (35 million acres), coast to coast to coast. For more information, contact: www.natureconservancy.ca.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, laidbackgardener.blog will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

4 comments on “Conservation Group Encourages People to Leave Their Leaves on the Ground

  1. Hey, I just wrote about how the forest does not expect to be raked after leaves fall. We do it to some degree of course. We can not leave the mess on the roads or roofs. There is not much deciduous foliage here, but redwoods drop a lot of detritus late in summer and autumn.

  2. I understand this approach unless you are dealing with the invasive jumping worms which love the leaf litter.

    • Even if you did, you still need to “feed” the trees leaf debris. At least that will help them somewhat. I hope ou don’t have jumping worms! I was hoping they were limited to milder climates!

      • I do have some, and I’m not at all happy about it. The cold kills the adult worms but not the cocoons with the eggs. I’m not sure how we’re going to ever get rid of them. I think it is a huge problem that not many people seem to be trying to address. I live ten minutes from the University of NH which is big into research, but there is no one looking into them here in the state. As gardeners, we’re on our own, AND Early Bird fertilizer which is the only organic option to kill the adults is no longer selling to individuals only golf courses. 🙁

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