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:

Leave the Leaves Alone: Nature Group Tells Canadians Not to Rake Their Lawns*


Don’t rake your lawn: those leaves are still useful. Source:

*Yes, I know I’ve written about not cleaning up gardens and lawns in the fall before, in fact just a few weeks ago, but in the past I’ve always felt like the voice of one crying in the wilderness: I seemed all alone in promoting this simple yet effective environmentally friendly gardening tip. This fall (2018), though, it seems like everyone is jumping on the “leave your lawns and gardens alone in the fall” bandwagon. The text below is taken from a CBC Canadapress release. Thanks to Gabriel Martin for pointing the release out to me.

Good news for the lazy: Canada’s leading conservation group is asking people not to rake their lawn.

“It’s good news if you don’t like raking the leaves because leaving them on the ground is the environmentally friendly thing to do,” said Andrew Holland, a spokesman for the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

He said the leaves provide a space for many small creatures to survive the winter.

“They provide habitat for butterflies, moths and different kinds of insects that can overwinter under the leaves. It’s also good for frogs and toads. The insects that overwinter provide food for birds in the spring,” he said.

20181109B Dan Pancamo, Wikimedia Commons.jpg

Letting your garden be in the fall is like putting out a bird feeder. Source: Dan Pancamo, Wikimedia Commons

Dan Kraus, the NCC’s senior conservation biologist, said people can also help migratory and resident birds survive winter by not clearing up their gardens.

“Fruits and seeds that remain on flowers and shrubs are a crucial food source that sustains many songbirds, such as goldfinches, jays and chickadees,” said Kraus.

“Overwintering insects in our yards also provide an important food source for birds. Providing winter habitats for our native birds and insects is just as important as providing food and shelter during the spring and summer.”

Holland said if you’re worried about smothering the lawn or having clogged gutters, the leaves can be tucked under bushes or in other areas away from your house.

“These leaves provide good mulch for shrubs and help prevent the freeze/thaw cycle in the roots through the winter,” he said.

“You want to reduce your leaf clutter to dime-size pieces. You’ll know you’re done when about half an inch of grass can be seen through the mulched leaf layer. Once the leaf bits settle in, microbes and worms get to work recycling them,” the website states.

Fall Leaves: Shred Before Use


20151003BIt’s he-re! Temperatures have dropped, frost is in the air (and has already hit some gardens), leaves are changing color: there is no denying fall is happening right now. Soon those leaves will be dropping off the trees… and as a good citizen of planet Earth, you will necessarily be recycling the fallen leaves.

Leaves are often referred to as “gardener’s gold”. They are so rich in organic matter and minerals that they can easily replace expensive (and polluting) fertilizers. You can add them to your compost (or set a few bags of them aside for next year’s compost pile), you can apply them as mulch to your flower and vegetable beds (or you can mix them into an existing mulch), you can simply toss them into a wooded area, etc. What you don’t want to do is to just throw them away.

But if you want your leaves to decompose well, you’ll need to shred them first. Okay, this is less of an issue for small leaves (leaves of black locust, crabapple, birch, etc.), but large ones (leaves of Norway maple, red oak, etc.) cause problems if they’re left intact. They tend to clump together to form an impenetrable barrier, for one thing. Plus, leaves that are left entire tend to blow around and annoy neighbors who might not be as eco-friendly as you are. Shredded leaves, by some miracle of physics, do not clump together, nor do they blow around (apply them, water once to settle them, and you’ll see what I mean). Oak leaves cause their own special problem: they are notoriously slow to decompose if you leave them as is. Chop them into tiny pieces and they change completely, decomposing in a matter of months.

20151003The easiest way to shred the leaves is to simply spread them on the grass (if they are not there already) and mow them. Yes, with your lawn mower. The mower will shred them into tiny little pieces, just the right size for the compost bin and for mulch!

And yes, you can use diseased fall leaves in the compost and as a mulch, in spite of where some municipalities claim. Read here for more information on that subject.

Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day


Free Mulch Awaits You in Most Neighborhoods

octobre 25Every gardener knows that the very best mulch is chopped leaves and that leaves are also a vital ingredient of compost. The problem is that, once you begin using fall leaves wisely, you often run out of them. Fortunately, there is an easy and cheap supply of leaves, probably right next door. Many people still bag their fall leaves and put them out for their municipality to recycle. (Hard to believe, isn’t it!) So simply steal the leaves your neighbors put out! In my neighborhood, this has become so popular that you have to be quick or someone else will get them!

Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day


Why Bother Raking the Leaves Off the Lawn?

septembre 13

Photo: terren in Virginia

Perennials, shrubs, trees, etc. tolerate fall leaves and even love it their base is covered with dead leaves in the autumn. This creates a natural mulch that feeds them and protects them from the harsh winter conditions to come. Lawns, on the other hand, cannot tolerate such an invasion. Remember that lawns don’t exist in the wild. They are an artificial medium maintained only by hard work.

The problem is that lawn grasses continue to carry out photosynthesis throughout the fall and until the ground freezes, so they need as much sun as they can get. Fall leaves cut off their source of energy. It therefore is necessary to continue to rake up leaves until the growth of the lawn stops, which is usually, in Northern gardens, when snow or a good solid freezing finally ends their growing season. The presence of a few leaves won’t harm a lawn, but when a layer of leaves forms that cuts off all the light, it’s time to get your rake or blower out and move those leaves somewhere else.