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

All those lovely leaves we see in the autumn are filled with anthocyanins, a few flavonoids, and the remnants of carotenoids that provide most of their brilliant colors. Yet they can quickly become a headache when they fall to the ground. No one enjoys the back breaking work of raking them into a big pile, stuffing them into a trash bag, and throwing them away.

Stop! You do not need to do all that. It is actually better for the lawn and the environment to leave leaves where they are.

According to the National Wildlife Foundation, “You shouldn’t feel obligated to rake up every last leaf in your yard this fall. Leave leaves on the ground — they have a lot of benefit to wildlife and your garden.”

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What are these benefits?

  • Fallen Leaves Provide Habitat to Creatures – All sorts of little animals rely on leaf cover to survive and build nests. These include salamanders, frogs, toads, box turtles, many terrestrial invertebrates, and other creatures.
  • Leaves Provide Nutrients for Organisms – Leaves are a natural part of any ecosystem. “Every resident of the leaf litter—or visitor to it—is connected to the food web in some way,” says Elizabeth Johnson, a program manager at the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation.
  • Reduce Waste – Throwing away leaves is very wasteful. The Environmental Protection Agency reported that in 2011, yard trimmings accounted for 13.5% of solid waste (approximately 33 million tons). Don’t let your leaves be wasted, they have critical benefits to wildlife and your garden.
  • Increase Soil Fertility – Leaving leaves alone and letting them naturally decompose adds nutrients to the soil. Leaves also increase the soil’s water retention.
  • Reduce Pollution – Leaf blowers and the trucks used to haul away leaves pollute. Artificial fertilizers also pollute. However, leaves are natural fertilizers that do not pollute and actually improve the soil.
  • Saved Time – By not focusing on removing leaves, one can focus on other fun stuff to do during the fall. “That time could be spent on other projects, like building an amphibian house, or ice skating, or having The Best Day Ever outdoors. You do not have to ditch the rake completely; you can use it to move leaves onto your flower beds or a compost or leaf mold pile.” (NWF)

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What to do With Leaves

This is not a cut and dry situation; many options are available. One can still remove leaves from the yard without causing pollution or waste. Here are some great things to do with leaves.

  1. Leaf Mold – Pile the leaves in a corner of the yard and let them decompose over time. Unlike composting, nothing else needs to be added. Learn how to make a leaf mold here.
  2. Composting – Leaves are great for any compost pile and are perfect for the garden. Also, leaves in a compost stay out of a landfill. Here is how to compost with worms.
  3. Save Them – It is easy to store leaves in paper bags until the spring and summer. Use them in the compost when it is hard to find carbon-rich organic materials.
  4. Share Leaves – Ask around and see if any local farms, schools, or even neighbors are looking for extra leaves. As mentioned previously, they are great for gardens.
  5. Wildlife Brush Shelter – “You can attract a variety of wildlife by creating a brush shelter. It is easy to build, and you’ll be supporting an abundance of wildlife in the process. Read more about the benefits of a brush shelter and how to build one.” (NWF)
  6. Make Stuff – It is easy to use leaves as autumn decorations or to create leaf prints. This is a project for the whole family.
  7. Play – Connect with your inner child and play in the leaves. It is fun and relaxing.

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Leaves are not a hassle; they are a blessing. Don’t rake them!

How do you enjoy fall leaves?

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7 comments
claylane13 - November 5, 2015

Leaving leaves alone on a lawn damages your grass. Use a mulching mower and chop up this amazing nutrient boost. Letting leaves be can also create animosity from neighbors that do not share your “let leaves be” policy, because wind likes to play with leaves.

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Greg - November 5, 2015

Last winter i left a layer of leaves in my backyard. Walking through them, i noticed that despite the frigid winter and the neighbors brown and dying lawn, mine was green and lush beneath the insulating layer of leaves.

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Rizz - November 5, 2015

I was just thinking last week about why we rake and use a blower to clear leaves. There must be a reason and thus article answers some questions.

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lindijanej - November 5, 2015

We like going out and crunching our way through them with our boots on. :) Best way to lift the spirits in Autumn!

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Miranda Rowe - November 6, 2015

I left leaves on my lawn on a…a leaf pile. It detroiated my lawn. Left a huge area where no grass grew for 2 years. After the 3rd year from that one time of leaving leaves the grass started to grow. The soil was very dry (lots of big trees)

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Elisabeth - November 6, 2015

Not only do the leaves kill the grass, but they are a haven for ticks. I do compost them for the garden, but I refuse to put my kids and dogs in harm’s way by attracting critters that could potentially get them sick. And, yes, I use natural flea and tick prevention on the dogs, but I have yet to find anything 100% fool-proof, so I opt to remove the pests and their homes myself.

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inVermont - November 6, 2015

The author probably doesn’t have many leaves on his yard. I clean my yard last week, and this is today (Picture below). If I don’t do anything, my yard gets about 6 inches of leaves there. Do you think that will be good for my yard? I’m pretty sure it is good for my soil, but not so much if I want to have green grass in spring. It just broke all the sun lights and kills them all.

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