(Photo by Chris Cheng)
If you're looking to pare down your fall to-do list, you can cross off raking the leaves in your yard.
Raking your leaves is an exercise in vanity — people do it because it makes their yards look nicer and more neat. But leaving the leaves on the ground where they fall is better for both the environment in general and the health of your yard.
Yard waste, including leaves and grass trimmings, amounted to 34.7 million tons of waste in 2015 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. More than half that total was composted, but 10.8 million tons of yard waste was sent to landfills in 2015, accounting for nearly 8 percent of all waste sent to landfills.
Those leaves do a lot more good in your yard than in a landfill, where they break down into methane, a greenhouse gas the contributes to climate change, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
When left on the ground where they fall, the leaves will break down naturally and fertilize the soil as they do. They also serve as a type of mulch, stifling the growth of weeds in the spring, the National Wildlife Federation reports.
Leaf litter also serves as an important habitat that many types of wildlife depend on. Many animals — everything from chipmunks to box turtles to toads — rely on the fallen leaves for shelter as well as for a food supply. Some animals also use the leaves for nesting material.
In addition, many caterpillars and insects overwinter in the leaf litter. Come spring, birds and other wildlife rely on those insects as a food source.
Leaving all the leaves where they fall isn't always a practical solution, because too thick of a layer of leaves could stifle your lawn's growth in the spring. If you have a mulching mower, you can simply cut the grass without removing the leaves. This will cut the leaves up into smaller parts that won't thickly blanket your grass. Or, gather leaves from your lawn for use as mulch in other parts of your yard, such as your garden or landscaped beds, the wildlife federation recommends.
You can also consider creating a compost pile from fallen leaves and grass clippings. If you keep the pile moist and well combined, by spring you'll be able to use it as compost on your garden.
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