New Brunswick

Save time, help nature, and leave your leaves alone this fall

Leaving patches of fallen leaves on your lawn this fall would provide a home to some critters in the cold months, according to Samantha Knight, conservation science manager for the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Fallen leaves provide habitat for species throughout the cold months, expert says

Colourful leaves delight people this time of year, but when they fall, many homeowners just want to bag them up. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

While fallen leaves might be an eyesore to some, there are critters that look at them as a home for the winter.

Butterflies, birds and moths that do not migrate to warmer temperatures, as well as salamanders and other creatures, rely on the leaves for insulation from the cold. 

"What we're recommending [is] if you keep leaves in a very thin layer or in small patches across the lawn, these leaves will actually provide some important overwintering habitat for many species," said Samantha Knight, a conservation science manager for the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

But this won't mean all types of wildlife will be encouraged to stay.

"These thin layers that we're recommending and small piles kind of pushed around trees or shrubs won't encourage mice," Knight told Information Morning Saint John host.

Samantha Knight, a conservation science manager for the Nature Conservancy of Canada, says it's important to leave fallen leaves on the ground to provide critters extra winter insulation in urban spaces. (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

Leaves and even dead branches can be left any place on your lawn or up against trees, save for rain gutters, sidewalks and any places where frozen leaves might be a slipping hazard.

In addition to this, leaving behind fruits and seeds from your shrubs helps to provide food for birds like chickadees, goldfinches and blue jays.

"Having this food and shelter throughout that season is just as important as we think about feeding our wildlife in the spring and summer with our feeders," said Knight.

The black-capped chickadee, New Brunswick's provincial bird, is one of the songbirds that feast on leftover seeds and fruits from the summer that lie scattered over backyards and lawns. (Rick Bremness/CBC)

Although this recommendation has been made for a few years now, Knight said more people each year are keen to learn more. 

"People are becoming more and more conscious of how a small act of conservation in your backyard can actually really help biodiversity. ... If you think about [how] a lot of people's lawns are in forested areas, [critters are] moving in and out of these areas to use our lawns as an important ecosystem."

Although it's commonplace for homeowners to rake leaves in the fall, Knight said it's good to start a dialogue on why this might be harmful.

"If you're feeling the pressure from the neighbours to keep that perfect manicured lawn, you can explain to them how great it is for biodiversity and all these critters, and I would think they should understand."

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