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Published 1:10 pm Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Leave leaves in your yard

By John Maruskin

Fall cleanup often means clipping back plants, raking leaves and removing branches from your yard to be picked up by trash collectors. This looks nice to some, but it doesn’t benefit yards and small creatures that live there.

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In the fall we don’t see bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects that visit  flowers all summer. Some migrate, but most live in and around our yards.

Many species rely on fallen leaves for cover and insulation. Butterflies and moths winter as eggs, caterpillars, pupae, or adults. Bumble bees rely on leaf litter for protection. Mated queen bumble bees burrow an inch or two into soil or hibernate in hollow branches.  Thick layers of leaves protect bugs and animals from winter weather. Spiders, snails, worms, beetles, millipedes, and mites overwinter in thick piles of leaves, providing food for chipmunks, turtles, birds, and amphibians.

Birds, animals and bugs need natural areas and yards can provide them.  In natural areas, sticks and leaves aren’t “cleaned up”, grasses grow long, seed heads provide food. So, a yard devoid of those characteristics doesn’t feed important animals that pollinate plants, provide pest control, and help build soil.

It’s possible, easy, to maintain a great place to live and provide vital winter habitat for bees, butterflies, birds, and other wildlife. Maintain enough lawn for your needs, adhere to neighborhood association rules, but also keep in mind neighborhood bugs, birds and animals.

Let flowers to go to seed for birds and let vegetable plants bolt for pollinators. Pile trimmed branches in places where they will provide shelter for overwintering bumble bees or butterflies. Wrens and towhees will nest in those branch piles.

When leaves fall, rake but don’t discard them. Instead, pile them on garden beds or in yard corners where they will be used by animals for shelter. Move leaves to out of the way places  where they won’t kill turf and will still help wildlife. A thin layer of leaves helps grass. Consider raking leaves around trees, or use them as winter mulch for perennials and garden beds. Thick layers of leaves in garden beds helps minimize weeds and provides a great soil amendment. Where leaves contact soil in flower and garden beds, earthworms thrive and help make better soil.

Next spring, turn those leaves into the beds or put them in compost.

This autumn leave leaves and plants around your yard and enjoy providing a healthy, natural place for your family and for birds, animals, and bugs that share your neighborhood.

Two good books about creating natural yards are “Bringing Nature Home” (call # 639.9 Tall) and “Nature’s Best Hope” (call # 635.951 Tall).  Both are by Douglas Tallamy.  You can find other books about creating natural yards in the same sections.  Ask a librarian for assistance.

Online, check out The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, www.xerces.org.

Leave leaves and use them in your flower and garden beds.  Your avian, animal, and invertebrate friends will appreciate it.