Leave the leaves

NOTE: Return of the Native is closed for the season. 

I have this message every fall - if you clear the overwintering habitat for the creatures in your yard, you destroy its biodiversity. Below, a timely message from the Nature Conservancy of Canada. If this message is a little late and you have already "cleaned up," you can do what I do at this time of year - leaf rustling...  I bring bags home and place my leaves and those "liberated" from the curb in a large bin, to break down into leaf mould. 

By the way, there's a reference to 'raking' that may be a litte quaint, but if you are intent on tidying, you should not use a leaf-blower, to safeguard your own well-being. Leaf blowers throw material up into the air to the level where we can easily breathe it in, and it's an invisible cocktail that includes moulds, pesticides, animal waste, and dust particles small enough to get past our natural defences. Children are particularly vulnerable to this toxic cloud.

Backyard wildlife need winter homes

One of the most beautiful aspects of fall, the changing colour of leaves, comes with an onerous task: raking them all up.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), however, has some green advice for people wishing to avoid back-breaking yard work: leave the rake in the shed and the leaves on the ground.

The not-for-profit land conservation group says leaving fallen leaves in your yard is a small act of nature conservation that can support backyard biodiversity in many ways.

While migratory birds and some butterflies travel to warmer destinations, many native insects, including pollinators, and other backyard wildlife hibernate through the winter — and can use a little neighbourly help.

Dan Kraus, NCC’s senior conservation biologist, says leaves can provide important habitat for many species to hibernate underneath.

“Backyard animals, such as toads, frogs and many pollinators, once lived in forests and have adapted to hibernate under leaves,” says Kraus. “The leaves provide an insulating blanket that can help protect these animals from very cold temperatures and temperature fluctuations during the winter.”

Another benefit of not raking your leaves is soil improvement. Kraus points out that as leaves break down, they also provide a natural mulch, which helps enrich the soil. Thick piles of leaves can impact the growth of grass and other plants, but a light covering can improve the health of our gardens and lawns.

As the leaves break down, some of their carbon also gets stored in the soil, allowing your backyard to become a carbon sink.

“While it’s great for cities to provide collection programs to compost leaves, the most energy-efficient solution is to allow nature to do its thing and for the leaves to naturally break down in your yard,” says Kraus. In 2018 alone, the City of Toronto collected over 92,000 tonnes of yard waste, including leaves, branches and Christmas trees.

And it’s not just leaves that are important for backyard wildlife during the winter.

“Plant stalks and dead branches also provide habitat for many species of insects,” says Kraus. “By cleaning up our yards and gardens entirely, we may be removing important wintering habitats for native wildlife in our communities.

“Migratory and resident birds can also benefit from your garden during the winter. Fruits and seeds left on flowers and shrubs are a crucial food source that sustains many songbirds during the winter, including goldfinches, jays and chickadees. Providing winter habitats for our native birds and insects is just as important as providing food and shelter during the spring and summer.”

“Layers of leaves are an important habitat for many animals, such as toads, frogs and insects. They hibernate under the insulating layer of leaves,” says Kraus. ”Many species of butterflies, moths and other insects also need plant stalks or dead branches for hibernation. By completely cleaning up our gardens we can be removing important wintering habitats for native wildlife.”

For those who don’t like the look of leaves on their lawn, raking the leaves and piling them under bushes and on top of garden beds is an alternative.

Previously, from Robert Pavlis: Fall Cleanup Advice – Be Good to the Environment

and from Kate:  
Trees need their leaf litter - and they're not the only ones

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