Leave the leaves: Why you should skip the bagging and let nature do its job

A view of colorful fall foliage is seen in Newark of Vermont, United States on October 12, 2021. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

A lot of the rain and snow has stripped leaves off trees across the country, and if your yard is a sea of red, yellow and orange leaves that still need to be raked, you may want to think twice about bagging them up and throwing them in the trash.

"Leaves are really a resource rather than a problem," said professor and extension specialist at the University of Delaware Susan Barton. "So, it's really important to think of your leaves as the resource that they are."

Barton said leaves provide organic matter and essential nutrients to your yard and environment.

"So, if you bag them and send them to the landfill, you're missing out on all that good stuff," she said. "If you think about a forest ecosystem, it is probably the healthiest soil. One of the healthiest ecosystems around."

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Travelers enjoying stunning view of Fall foliage at Matanuska Glacier overlook, Alaska, USA. (Getty Images)

Barton said that partially because all the leaves fall and decompose on the forest floor.

So, what's the best way to break down all the leaves in your yard to help your lawn flourish?


"If you don't have a lot of land, the thing to do is just mow the leaves, and if you mow with a mulching mower, that will sift the leaves down into the ground, and they won't block the sunlight so they won't injure your lawn in any way."

Barton said you could also rake the leaves into your landscape beds and let the leaves decompose in that location.

"A third option is to collect your leaves into a pile, chop them up with a lawn mower, let them sit over the course of the winter, and then use them as mulch on your landscape beds the following spring," she said.

That way, Barton said, you will save money by not having to buy additional mulch.

Leaving your leaves also benefits insects.


"Native insects are critical for feeding birds," Barton said. "We've lost a pretty large percentage of our native bird population, so we want to do everything we can to preserve them."

Those birds also feed insects to their young, particularly caterpillars.

"So, you'll want to encourage caterpillars and other native insects in your landscape, and many of those insects overwinter in the duff of fallen leaves," Barton said. "Or they overwinter in loose, open soil, and allowing the leaves to fall on the ground will both provide that duff and also provide it will also provide a more loose, open soil for those insects that burrow down into the soil to overwinter."

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