School is back in session, the air has just the hint of a chill, and Halloween decorations are starting to pop up in my neighborhood. I don’t have to check my calendar to know that fall is officially here — and that means people are dusting off their rakes to clear the leaves that will soon blanket their lawns. But is raking leaves a chore you can leave off your to-do list this year?
According to a blog post by the National Wildlife Federation, leaving fallen leaves right where they are can be beneficial for wildlife, as well as for your yard. Why? Many species of animals, including chipmunks, frogs, turtles, insects, and moths, rely on a cozy layer of leaves as their primary habitat throughout the winter. As for your yard, leaves create a natural mulch layer that helps keep weeds away, protects plants’ roots, and fertilizes the soil.
However, many homeowners associations (HOAs) frown on the practice of leaving your leaves (that is, they expressly forbid it). And, unfortunately for those cute chipmunks and their friends, a thick bed of leaves will smother the green oasis of grass you’ve worked hard to cultivate. The good news is, there’s a happy medium between forgoing raking entirely and spending hours bagging up dead leaves and disposing of them.
When To Leave Your Leaves
If you don’t have a carefully manicured lawn or an HOA with strict rules to abide by, you may want to simply let nature do its thing this fall and spare yourself the hassle of raking your leaves. Are you a wildlife lover? Doing nothing will allow all those adorable woodland creatures to thrive. Mama birds can forage your leaf layer for caterpillars to feed their babies during nesting season, and certain bat species may even hibernate in your leaves! (It is almost Halloween, after all.)
Do you have garden beds that need to be mulched in cold weather? Simply move some of your leaves over to protect them from the elements. You can’t beat free mulch! If you’re worried the leaves will blow away, shred them up into smaller pieces using hedge clippers, so they’ll be more likely to stay put where you want them.
When to Rake Your Yard — And What To Do With the Leaves
If you take pride in your yard and prefer to keep your expanse of green looking lovely, you will want to break out your garden tools and clear those leaves off the lawn, so your grass doesn’t suffocate and die over the winter. However, rather than throwing your leaves out with the trash, where they could end up in a landfill and give off methane (a gas that contributes to climate change), consider turning them into mulch or leaf mold, which is wonderful for perennials and vegetable gardens.
To make free mulch from your leaves, you can use a lawn mower, as Bob Vila explains on his website. It’s much easier than raking and bagging, and you’ll still be able to see your lawn when you’re done — minus the aching back. Making leaf mold (yes, mold can be good!) is a little more involved and takes a lot longer (about a year), but many gardeners swear by the sweet-smelling, crumbly brown substance for its superior moisture-absorbing and cooling properties. Here’s how to do it. Give it a try and see why this type of mold is known as “gardener’s gold.”
Personally, I’ve never outgrown jumping in a big crunchy pile of red and yellow leaves — so whatever you decide to do with your leaves this year, don’t forget to have fun!