More than just a tell-tale sign of fall, leaf litter provides nutrients to surrounding plants and habitat for overwintering insects, among many other benefits. Thanks to advocacy by New Hope Audubon Society, municipalities like Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro have picked up on these important benefits for birds and people and are now supporting Leave Your Leaves programs.
The idea is simple: this autumn, let your leaves lie where they fall. Or if you must move them, do so gently and minimally.
“Leaving your leaves is one of the simplest ways you can help plants and wildlife this fall,” said Barbara Driscoll, New Hope Audubon board member. “We’re excited the message is resonating with folks and welcome anyone who is interested to use our materials and help expand the campaign across North Carolina.”
Benefits of leaving your leaves
As natural fertilizers, leaves help return nutrients to surrounding trees and plants, reduce flooding, air, water and noise pollution (from leaf blowers) and can save time and money.
Over 94% of our butterflies and moths overwinter in the leaves in the form of eggs, caterpillars, or chrysalis. Other insects, including spiders, worms, beetles, and snails use the leaf litter as a place to live during the winter and birds like the Hermit Thrush and White-throated Sparrow can be seen picking through the leaves to find food. When you leave your leaves, you are helping to maintain biodiversity throughout the food web.
There are many ways to make your yard more bird and wildlife friendly by leaving your leaves. These are the best options for leaving your leaves:
BEST: Leave your leaves where they fall. Effort level 0!
GOOD: In areas where that’s not an option, such as areas of grass you need to maintain, gently rake or blow leaves with an electric blower (best for environmental and noise pollution) into adjacent areas to use as mulch such as:
- under your trees in an even “carpet” extending out as far past the tree canopy dripline as possible
- under your shrubs
- in your garden beds, which, hopefully, are filled with native plants
AS A LAST RESORT: Mulch leaves directly into your grass with a mulching lawnmower (preferably an electric one to prevent pollution). -OR- Use leaves in your compost pile or composter.
Learn more about how to Leave Your Leaves on New Hope Audubon Society’s page.
The back story
To launch the Leave Your Leaves program, New Hope Audubon Society used a grant from the Triangle Community Foundation which allowed them to develop brochures, posters, yard signs, school toolkits for grades 1-12, and webpages to promote Leave Your Leaves. They partnered with Keep Durham Beautiful who promoted the program through their newsletter and promoted it through the Durham Environmental Consortium. Durham and Orange County stormwater departments promoted it in their fall postcard to residents.
New Hope Audubon petitioned the town of Chapel Hill to initiate a Leave Your Leaves campaign and eventually stop their loose-leaf pick-up program. “This allowed us to get the ball rolling with town staff and eventually meet to discuss how we could help with their campaign which was very exciting,” said Driscoll.
New Hope Audubon was able to partner with the town of Chapel Hill to create an educational program. The town has since promoted Leave Your Leaves in their weekly email newsletters, used the New Hope model for their yard signs, and promoted it through their fall postcard.
Chapell Hill also created a webpage for the campaign and to promote sign pickups through pledges. They partnered with the town of Carrboro to provide signs at both town halls, library, and solid waste facility.
If you’d like to launch a Leave Your Leaves program in your own community, start by getting in touch with your local chapter.