Scientists Urge: Don’t Rake Your Leaves — Here’s Why

Dawn Papple - Author

Aug. 23 2017, Updated 4:27 a.m. ET

If you are looking for an excuse to leave the leaves where they fall this fall, look no further than the National Wildlife Federation’s suggestion to not rake your leaves. The NWF is imploring homeowners to just leave them be. Fallen leaves, they say, are a crucial part of the ecosystem in our yards. Can we learn to see fallen leaves as a critical part of a habitat and stop raking them every autumn? Scientists concerned about diminishing wildlife like butterflies and earthworms and poor soil health certainly hope so.

Dead leaves, according to Randall Hitchin, a scientist at the University of Washington Arboretum, are home to many beneficial insects.

“It changes the habitat,” said Hitchin, explaining to USA Today that he rarely rakes leaves. “It makes it unfriendly for them.”

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Sarah Moore of the Pacific Science Center’s indoor butterfly garden agrees. She says that dead leaves are important to the life cycles of many insects. Moore says she wants to create a better habitat for these insects.

It’s not just insects that benefit from letting dead leaves lie where they have fallen. According to NWF, salamanders, chipmunks, toads, shrews, and turtles even benefit from the fallen leaves. Creatures either lay eggs upon the leaves, eat the leaves, or live within the shelter of the leaves. For example, many butterflies and moth species overwinter in layers of fallen leaves. It doesn’t end there, though. If you remove these beneficial insects from the habitat, animals that prey upon them in the spring will also find the yard inhospitable. Many birds rely on these insects to feed their babies.

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Leaves also benefit the soil. They suppress weeds and fertilize the soil. NWF states that they understand some people live in subdivisions with Homeowners Association rules or in communities where local ordinances mandate that leaves must be raked. In these situations, where homeowners and renters are not permitted to leave their leaves, the NWF offers other solutions. People can rake leaves and put them into a large garbage can and then use a weed whip to make them into a mulch to use in flower beds. At least this way, many of the insect eggs will still survive.

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Alternately, leaves can be composted by the homeowner. Some communities, according to the NWF, offer curbside pick up, where the leaves are converted into mulch or compost for community operations in the spring.

Even Scotts’ Lawn Library has joined in the leaves the leaves bandwagon, with an author citing a recent Michigan State University study. Scotts claims that by simply mowing up your fall leaves, your grass will look greener than ever in the spring.

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“Take the grass catcher off your mower and mow over the leaves on your lawn. 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. Any kind of rotary-action mower will do the job, and any kind of leaves can be chopped up. With several passes of your mower, you can mulch up to 18 inches of leaf clutter.”

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According to the Michigan State research, mowing right over leaves resulted in improved soil and healthy lawns.

“Arguably, the nitrogen boost that results from mulching is such that you don’t even have to fertilize in the fall,” a Bob Villa writer claims. “This means that compared with raking, mulching leaves isn’t only easier and more lawn-friendly, but it’s also less costly, saving you both the money and time spent on fertilizing.”

Do you rake leaves every fall?

[Image via Pixabay]


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