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Leaving The Leaves

The autumnal equinox is upon us. September 23rd will officially be the end of this amazing summer we’ve had and will be the beginning of our much beloved fall. The changing of the leaves, the colder and brisker weather, darker earlier evenings . . . so much is about to change in our beautiful spot in the world! Western New York has gorgeous fall foliage and, being designated a “Tree City USA” for 42 years, it only makes sense to write an article on how beneficial it is to keep your fallen leaves in your yard and why you shouldn’t rake them up!

Did you know that putting your raked up leaves in the garbage only adds to the 33 million tons of yard waste that ends up in landfills annually? Putting any organic material, such as leaves or food, into your garbage is one of the biggest contributors to methane exhaust from landfills, which in turn is one the biggest contributors to climate change. Not only do leaves, yard waste, and food not break down and decompose correctly in a landfill (because they are airtight), they also just sit there in a state of limbo releasing methane.

Now that we know why we shouldn’t put leaves in the garbage, let’s talk now about how great it is for you to not rake up those leaves! “Leaves are nature’s natural mulch and fertilizer” says David Mizejewski, a naturalist at the National Wildlife Federation. Leaves are also a natural habitat for butterflies, salamanders, chipmunks, box turtles, toads, shrews, earthworms, and many others. They lay eggs in the leaves and feed on and under the leaf layer. "Over winter months, a lot of butterflies and moths such as pupas or caterpillar are in the leaf litter, and when you rake it up, you are removing the whole population of butterflies you would otherwise see in your yard," he says. By providing this habitat for beneficial insects and other critters, you increase the population of beneficial insects for when the gardening season returns.

Leaving the leaves also increases the soil health of your lawn. Decomposing leaves help regulate soil moisture. Leaves are a natural mulch that you don’t even have to buy! If you want to create an even better mulch for your yard than just leaving them, and you are the “get stuff done” type, you can always mow the leaves without an attachment to mulch the leaves, which in turn breaks them into smaller pieces which will actually enhance the lawns fertility.

If you have to rake because you feel the need to have that green, green lawn as long as you can, try raking the leaves into your garden or flower beds or under your trees. As we now know, leaves make an amazing mulch that will help fertilize and leave your yard or gardens looking so much healthier in the spring and summer. And if you just have to rid yourself of the leaves, the City of Jamestown’s BPU yard debris site is a good spot, as well another local place in North Harmony run by Robert Yates that accepts yard debris at no cost.

I hope this article helps you decide to leave those leaves in your yard and start thinking about the entire ecosystem that is your yard!

by Bethany O'Hagan, Land Specialist for Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy


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