Leave the Leaves

baby robins in a nest with mouths open wide, waiting to be fed

How Skipping One Step of Your Spring Lawn Care Ritual Can Have a Big Payoff for Nature

a green butterfly with leaf-like wings and a long tail
The stunning Luna Moth – David notMD, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The list of spring chores which you can do to support native birds and pollinators is longer than a 200-year-old bur oak is tall, but let’s be honest here: sometimes a person just needs a day off from saving the planet.

large, striking, black and yellow swallowtail butterfly
Black swallowtail butterfly – Thomas Bresson, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Well, good news—there’s something you can do to support endangered bees, butterflies, baby birds, and thousands of critters that enrich biodiversity—and it’s no work it all. In fact, it’s the opposite of work.

What am I talking about? Leave the leaves.

That’s right—do not rake, blow, or remove the leaves from your lawn.

As I write this, the roar of leaf blowers surrounds me on all sides. A tour of my neighborhood today revealed many folks had ‘cleaned up’ their lawns and gardens by removing the ‘clutter’ of last fall’s leaves.

a large oak tree, viewed from the trunk, looking up at a canopy of autumn leaves
Oak tree – photo by author

What they may not realize is that those leaves provide essential cover to countless species, including butterflies, moths, bees, fireflies, and a host of beneficial insects which enable nature to stay in balance on their little corner of the ecosystem.

close up of a striped beetle, commonly known as the firefly
Firefly – Bruce Marlin, CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Do you like fireflies? Leave the leaves—they’re essential to their lifecycle.

Do you love Luna Moths? Leave the leaves—these lovely creatures disguise their cocoons as dried leaves.

Hoping to see more Swallowtail butterflies this summer? Leave the leaves—these beauties also overwinter in chrysalises disguised as fallen leaves.

a black, brown, and yellow butterfly with a checkered spotted pattern
Great spangled fritillary butterfly – David Menke, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Fritillary butterflies, wooly bear caterpillars (which grow to Isabella tiger moths), the eggs of the endangered Karner Blue, and an encyclopedia of skipper butterflies, all need leaf litter to survive.

It’s not just butterflies and moths. Consider the bumblebee: the endangered American Bumblebee, the Rusty Patched, and a host of other native bees. Each fall, their queen bees tuck into small underground burrows, protected by leaves, while they dream of spring flowers, and wait until temperatures remain reliably above 55 degrees.

large black winged bumble bee on purple petaled flower
American bumblebee on purple coneflower – photo by author
very hungry looking baby bird with mouth open wide
One very hungry baby bird – Areefi, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

And don’t get me started on birds. Leaves are critical to their lifecycle. While adult birds can eat the seed you kindly put out for them, their babies rely on the larvae and caterpillars which are at this moment having a big hogass sleepover under your leaves. No caterpillars? No more birds.

So do yourself a favor and make your next lawn chore kicking back and listening to the courting songbirds, and leave the leaves alone.

baby robins in a nest with mouths open wide, waiting to be fed
Baby robins waiting to be fed – Bryancalabro, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

One response to “Leave the Leaves”

  1. Excellent post. I am all in favor of less yard work especially if it lets nature be nature. People in our neighborhood wonder why they no longer see as many fireflies as they did when they were younger, but the true green trucks patrol every spring day slathering vast tracts of land with cancer-causing poison so they probably might want to put two and two together.

    Liked by 1 person

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