Leave the Leaves!
Whether you reside in an urban, suburban or rural area, there can be many benefits to putting down the rakes and leaf blowers this fall and leaving the leaves. Leaving a layer of leaf litter on your property until the spring can be beneficial for soil health and many native species.
While fallen leaves may appear as clutter on your property, they are essential for wildlife. They provide shelter and a food source for many insects and amphibians.
Benefits for Insects:
Several species of moths and butterflies including Swallowtails and Polyphemus Moths overwinter as pupae in a chrysalis in the leaf litter. When leaves are removed, it decreases the local population of these insects. Many species of bumble bee, which are important pollinators, also rely on leaves as a means of protection. In the late summer bumble bee queens burrow a few inches underground to overwinter. A layer of fallen leaves provides a layer of protection from wind, rain and snow to help ensure their survival into the spring. This is essential as only bumble bee queens overwinter. Each spring the queens must find an area to nest and lay eggs to replace the colony naturally lost each fall.
Benefits for Amphibians:
Leaf litter also provides an important habitat for overwintering amphibians such as salamanders, toads and frogs, including Wood Frogs. Wood Frogs have the unique adaptation of freezing in the winter during hibernation and thawing out in the spring. The fallen leaves provide an important insulating layer between the snow and the ground which helps to keep the temperature more stable, putting less strain on their bodies through freeze and thaw cycles.
Leaf litter isn’t just a sanctuary for wildlife; it’s also a key contributor to enriching soil quality. Decomposing leaf litter improves soil quality by increasing the amount of organic matter in the soil, as well as feeding beneficial microorganisms in the soil. When a layer of leaves remains on the ground through the winter it can also help to suppress early spring weeds.
By leaving a layer of leaf litter on your property until the spring, you will provide many benefits to local pollinators, amphibians and your soil. These leaves act as a vital component of a thriving and balanced ecosystem.
- Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory (2017). Butterflies in Winter. Retrieved from https://www.cambridgebutterfly.com/butterflies-in-winter/
- ON Nature magazine (2014). The Frozen Frog. Retrieved from https://view.publitas.com/on-nature/winter_2014/page/8-9
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2022). Retrieved from https://www.iucnredlist.org/