Leave your leaves this fall

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — Another autumn is in progress and with the falling of the leaves, comes the cleaning up of the leaf litter.

What may be an unsightly nuisance to us is actually a source of survival for many local critters.

Dr. Rachael Bonoan, assistant professor and pollinator expert at Providence College, explained, “We have a lot of things that need to stick out the New England winter here with us. One of the ways they do that is by protecting themselves under the leaf litter- or under the soil and that leaf litter provides an extra insulation for the soil.”

Animals like salamanders, chipmunks, wood frogs, box turtles, toads, shrews, earthworms, small mammals, millipedes, and thousands of insects, many of which are pollinators, all overwinter in the leaves.

As some are in egg form, removing the leaves means removing the whole next generation of insects and their habitat.

Bonoan said that “some insects overwinter on their leaves as adults. Some overwinter as their chrysalis or cocoon, but some also lay their eggs on leaves and leaf litter and so not only are some getting protection, some are going to actually develop on those leaves in the spring.”

Birds also forage the leaf layer for food, so fewer insects in your yard, means fewer birds in your yard.

Another reason to leave your leaves over the fall, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates 33 million tons of leaves is put in U.S. landfills each year. These leaves need oxygen to decompose that they don’t get in a landfill.

As a result, they make methane gas, which is a greenhouse gas contributing to our climate change problem.

It may be time to reframe how we see leaves. In fact, leaves are very valuable as a natural resource to your gardens and trees.

When gently raked (not shredded, mowed or mulched) and placed around the base of a tree or put in gardens, leaves are a natural source of mulch and fertilizer. And it’s free!

Bonoan advises, “Don’t do your fall cleanup. Move your leaves around if you want the fall, but do your big cleanup in the spring because it keeps that habitat available to those bees when they need it most.”

Not to mention those woody stems of past season perennial plants are perfect winter habitat for solitary bees that emerge in the early spring. Leave six to 10 inches of stems to help them out, too.

Categories: News, Scientifically Speaking