“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…”
from To Autumn, John Keats
We’re a long way from the nature-rich world of John Keats’ “To Autumn.” Instead, fall has become the season of noise, habitat destruction, and environmental degradation. Leaf-blowing, cutting down of stems and seed heads, leaf and debris removal—much of this is entirely unnecessary and turns your yard into a wasteland that can’t support the pollinators and local wildlife.
Many beneficial insects, such as butterflies, fireflies, moths, and beetles, overwinter in leaf litter or brush piles. Many insects overwinter in dead stems. In turn, these small creatures are prey for birds, turtles, frogs, and small mammals. About 70% of native bees overwinter in the top layer of soil. Leaf blowing literally blows away this valuable habitat.
Leaf litter provides free organic material, enriching your soil and providing protection from the freeze-thaw cycle in the spring. Visually, seed heads and stems are a ghostly and sculptural presence in winter.
So what to do? Leaf litter tends to collect naturally under shrubs, in perennial beds, and around trees. Just leave them. If you must move the leaves, deposit them in these areas. As for debris, create a brush pile in an unobtrusive location. The beneficial insects and other small wildlife will overwinter in your brush pile. A lot of leaf litter and some debris will literally disappear over the winter, as it breaks down. What leaf litter that remains in spring will provide free mulch over the summer.
Leaving the leaves is a simple and effective way to bring back the pollinators and support other beneficial insects that in turn provide food for birds, chipmunks, turtles, frogs, and other animals.