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Exploring the Many Benefits of Leaf Litter with North Branch Land Trust image
Conservation
November 16, 2023
Exploring the Many Benefits of Leaf Litter with North Branch Land Trust
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DiscoverNEPA is partnering with North Branch Land Trust, a nonprofit that conserves the natural, working and scenic landscapes of NEPA. They’ll provide conservation tips and give us a look at their protected lands. Learn how you can join NBLT and do your part to protect NEPA’s natural resources.

Unrake My Lawn, Say You Leaf Me Again

Photo courtesy of NBLT member Gail Stasko.

 

Raking leaves into a big pile and jumping into them is still a nostalgic treat each fall. The woods around my childhood home provided plenty of play, but even now I take time to appreciate the crunchy delight in my own yard. Back then, we really did not need to PUT the leaves anywhere as we were neighbored by only the forest. Today, the folks in my apartment compost our lawn clippings and leaf litter into an un-mowable segment of the yard affectionately dubbed “the snake pit.”

However, there are still far too many places that treat fallen leaves as trash instead of the ecological treasure they are! With dropping temperatures pulling the last of NEPA’s leaves from the branches, North Branch Land Trust is here to allow, nay, implore you to take a break and leaf your leaves till next year.

 

Photo courtesy of NBLT member Gail Stasko.

 

Benefits of leaf litter

NEPA forests are filled with rich healthy soils, and that is thanks in no small part to its luscious layer of leaf litter! But what is it about leaf litter that makes it so beneficial in our local habitat?

  • Return nutrients to soil – Plants store nutrients in their roots, trunks, branches, and leaves. Dead organic material (i.e. fallen leaves) is broken down by fungi, invertebrates, and other life forms and returned to the soil for reuptake.
  • Pollinator nursery – While some pollinators like Monarch Butterflies migrate, overwintering species like the Tussock Moth depend on leaf litter for safe cocooning.
  • Wildlife weatherproofing – Leaf litter is an important thermal layer perfect for over-wintering invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, and other small wildlife. Raking it away is like taking the roof off their house!
  • Soil seedbank – Mixed in with all those leaves and twigs are seeds that are vital to future generations of plant life. Many species can survive years to decades waiting for the proper conditions.

 

Photo courtesy of NBLT member Gail Stasko.

 

Can’t let your yard be leafy?

If you want to make your yard a bit more sustainable but can’t quite commit to a fully-leaved yard this year, there are plenty of alternatives. Keeping in mind stewardship goals of soil health and native biodiversity, try these options:

  • Compost pile – Moving leaves to an un-mowable section of the yard or a garden bed can be a great option if you have the space. The leaves provide an important habitat throughout the coldest months, while the natural freezing and thawing throughout the winter will help to speed up the breakdown of organic matter.
  • Mulch by mowing bagless – Those lacking space to maintain large leafy habitat can still take advantage of the nutrient benefits of leaf litter by mowing without the bag. Mulched leaf litter will break down faster and have all but disappeared by spring.
  • Community composting – While it doesn’t keep those great butterflies around or make houses for yard toads, community collection for composting is a way to make sure the benefits of leaf litter are returned to the soil instead of a landfill.

North Branch Land Trust works with landowners and their communities to conserve the natural, working, and scenic landscapes in Northeastern Pennsylvania that enrich our lives. Visit nblt.org to learn more about the lands we have conserved, check out our conservation publications, RSVP for upcoming events, shop original conservation merchandise, and more.