Leaving leaves on the ground over winter can be good for the environment, conservation group says. Black Press Media file.

Conservation group encourages people to leave their leaves on the ground

Even though we did get some early snow, many people are still facing the task of raking leaves before winter really sets in.

But what if you didn’t rake in the fall? The Nature Conservancy of Canada says leaving fallen leaves in your yard is actually good for the environment.

The conservation group says 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.”

The Conservancy acknowledges that this may not work for everyone. some people may not want to have a somewhat untidy yard, of want their leaves to blow across into a neighbour’s yard, or clog a storm drain.

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