Dear Mom: I was Right about Not Raking Leaves

Edge Valley Road in Albemarle County
Edge Valley Road in Albemarle County; photo taken by me.

Raking leaves is bad.

Now … someone tell the HOA.

I saw this story a couple years ago and have sent it to my mom almost every year, as a reminder of that one time I was right (without even knowing it).

Put the rake down, and back away from the leaves.

Dry, dead leaves may be unsightly to your neighbors, but they are great wildlife habitat for a slew of creatures, according to David Mizejewski, a Naturalist at the National Wildlife Federation.

Each year the NWF, reminds people that there are benefits to letting leaves decompose naturally.

Don’t believe me? Just search. You’ll see.

It took me a few minutes of searching to find the actual source post at the National Wildlife Federation that is referenced everywhere, and it’s full of science-y goodness.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, leaves and other yard debris account for more than 13 percent of the nation’s solid waste—a whopping 33 million tons a year. Without enough oxygen to decompose, this organic matter releases the greenhouse gas methane, says Joe Lamp’l, author of The Green Gardener’s Guide. In fact, solid-waste landfills are the largest U.S. source of man-made methane—and that’s aside from the carbon dioxide generated by gas-powered blowers and trucks used in leaf disposal.

For gardeners, turning leaves into solid waste is wasteful. “Fallen leaves offer a double benefit,” Mizejewski says. “Leaves form a natural mulch that helps suppress weeds and fertilizes the soil as it breaks down. Why spend money on mulch and fertilizer when you can make your own?”

Removing leaves also eliminates vital wildlife habitat. Critters ranging from turtles and toads to birds, mammals and invertebrates rely on leaf litter for food, shelter and nesting material. Many moth and butterfly caterpillars overwinter in fallen leaves before emerging in spring.

Need one more reason to leave the leaves? “The less time you spend raking leaves,” Mizejewski says, “the more time you’ll have to enjoy the gorgeous fall weather and the wildlife that visits your garden.”

Instead of raking leaves, go for a hike. Or a bike ride. Or walk around the neighborhood. Or read a book. Or anything else, because if you rake leaves, you’re ruining the environment. 🙂


Featured photo credit.

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    1. Jim Duncan November 8, 2016 at 13:43

      Anything to help kids not rake leaves help the environment. 🙂


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