Not raking your leaves can be better for your lawn: conservation group
Park workers use a tractor with a industrial leaf blower to pile up fall leaves at High Park in Toronto on Monday, Oct. 28, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
TORONTO -- Do you hate raking your leaves in the fall? Good news: a conservation group says that leaving them alone can actually be better for your lawn and its ecosystem.
Andrew Holland, who is the national media director of the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), says embracing your inner laziness can go a long way in helping your lawn's soil quality. As the fallen leaves break down, they turn into mulch, which can help keep your lawn healthy and suppress weeds.
"It's free fertilizer for your lawn, essentially," he told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Friday.
Having too many leaves can inhibit grass growth, so Holland advises keeping it to one or two layers. Alternatively, you can chop up the leaves with a lawnmower to help break them down and prevent your lawn from suffocating.
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A thin layer of leaves can also be beneficial to butterflies, moths, caterpillars and other insects that rely on nutrients in your soil. Many of these insects, along with frogs and toads, hibernate inside the leaf litter during the winter, using the leaves as an insulating blanket.
With habitat loss across Canada, on top of the fact that over 80 per cent of Canadians live in cities and towns, Holland says backyard biodiversity is now more important than ever.
"Urban nature is becoming more and more important. And we don't necessarily think of our backyards and our own lawns being a nature reserve. But it can be, if we just reconsider how we view our own lawns," said Holland.
These insects are not only important pollinators, but they're also an important food source for birds, which have been declining in population. A 2019 study found that in the previous 50 years, North America lost 2.9 billion birds, mainly due to diminishing food sources and habitat loss.
"We think about feeding birds other times in the year, but we don't necessarily think of feeding them in the winter," said Holland.
There are some situations where it may be necessary to rake leaves. Leaves near storm drains should be cleared, otherwise they can create a soggy mess or even cause a flood. On sidewalks, uncleared leaves can cause a tripping hazard if it rains and they freeze in the winter.
In addition, Holland said, if you have a pine tree near your backyard, it’s a good idea to rake the needles, which are acidic and can damage the soil.
If you enjoy raking leaves or like the look of a clean lawn, Holland says the NCC isn't telling people they shouldn't rake their leaves, but is merely presenting an alternative.
"If people want to rake their leaves … that's great. We're not telling people not to do that. People like raking leaves in some ways. People enjoy getting the fresh air and working out," he said.
Many municipalities offer a roadside collection service for yard waste to turn it into compost. But if you live in a municipality that doesn't have a yard waste program and still want to rake your leaves, Holland suggest placing them in your garden or underneath trees or shrubs.
"That can be beneficial in terms of preventing the freeze-thaw cycle from impacting the tree roots," he said.