Have you heard someone say “don’t rake your leaves in the fall” but never been clear why that is? Some people think that leaves are messy and they make their yard look bad, without understanding just how important simple fallen leaves can be.
In the winter, fallen leaves provide an insulating layer between the ground and the snow. Beneath these leaves is an amazing “mini ecosystem”. Snails, worms, spiders, beetles, millipedes, centipedes, butterfly larvae, and salamanders are just a few of the many animals that commonly find shelter under the leaves in winter. They choose these spots to hibernate because they are warmer and protected from wind and snow. Raking leaves in the fall or early spring is not recommended because it damages or removes the protective insulation layer for these species hibernating underneath. When you rake up the leaves in the fall or early spring you are exposing them to cold conditions, which can be very hard on them. Many insects like centipedes and beetles will stay under the leaves all summer, making raking harmful at any time of the year.
Wait to Rake!
- Hibernating insects are a great source of food for birds and other wildlife. By not raking your leaves, you are helping more species of wildlife.
- Leaves hold lots of nutrients which are very beneficial to keeping your lawn healthy. If they are given time to break down and decompose they can help your trees and grass flourish.
- Leaves on your flower beds can help keep the flowers’ roots warm and protect them over winter.
The best thing you can do is avoid raking your leaves completely. If you must remove the leaves it is best to do so mid- late spring after conditions have steadily warmed. Additionally, to avoid matting or slipping hazards, consider raking them, keeping them whole, and placing them into a neat pile in the corner of your yard. Another solution is to use a leaf vacuum that would also allow you to move the leaves to a new location so the species would still have their natural protection. The most harmful thing is to dispose of them in a landfill or burn them. Species need their homes, so let’s try and keep them intact.
If you want to investigate some of these species and where they hibernate, go to your lawn, or around a nearby forest and look under the leaves. Can you see any signs of bugs? Why else do you think they might like it underneath? Be careful not to disturb the animals you find.