I’m a messy person. Always have been, always will be. I admire folks who keep a tidy house. But I take issue with tidy yards, because tidiness reduces habitat for countless creatures.
Consider this post an invitation to be temporarily messy for the benefit of all. In the autumn, try to leave a least some of the leaves where they fall. They hold eggs, larvae, fungi and gosh knows what other crucial elements of a healthy ecosystem. Some moth and butterfly species overwinter as adults, too. Leaves and flower stems provide cover and habitat for birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
Izzy found a cave salamander walking on a side street last week, right here in suburbia. If everyone created immaculate golf-course lawns, where would it hibernate?
Red bats and box turtles hibernate under leaf litter, smack on the ground. Meanwhile, the leaves quietly decompose and enrich the soil, feeding more critters and giving you better grass in spring (if grass is what you seek).
I admit, not all yard leaves are created equal. If you have a 3 inch thick mat of sycamore leaves covering your lawn, you’ll probably want to mow them first. If you have hackberries, you are in luck, because those leaves nestle themselves politely into waiting gaps.
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Here’s an article from the National Wildlife Federation offering compelling reasons to leave the leaves, as well as this facebook post from Prairie Moon native nursery, which advocates letting flower stems and seedheads remain in situ all winter.