Leave The Leaves

When people ask me what they can do to #NurtureNative, I almost always answer, “Use native plants and stop using chemicals.” Today, I’d like to add a third item to this list. Quite simply, “Leave the leaves.”

Leaf litter – dead leaves and other plant matter that falls to the ground – plays an important role in several ecological functions. It absorbs rainwater, slows runoff, and mitigates the evaporative effects of sun and wind. The decomposition of leaf litter positively impacts soil health and plays a key role in nutrient recycling. Leaf litter is also incredibly important to many invertebrates, providing both food and cover from predators.

For instance, in our area, the Red-banded Hairstreak, a gorgeous butterfly, lays eggs on dead leaves on the ground, making it easy for its caterpillars to devour these as food. Henry’s Elfins, Io moths, and many other butterflies and moths pupate in leaf litter. Queen bumble bees are also thought to overwinter in leaf litter. Indeed, leaf litter is so important for so many invertebrates that the Butterfly Conservation (a UK-based organization working to protect butterflies and moths) has launched a “Do Nothing for Nature” campaign. With this campaign, the organization is encouraging people to leave an untidy garden to benefit nature.

While our winters are much less severe than those in the UK, our insect population could also benefit from an untidy garden. So, will you leave the leaves this winter and #NurtureNative?

Take the pledge, post photos of the bugs in your leaves, and tag us on Facebook to let us know what’s in your garden. And, for adults interested in introducing this concept to children, here’s an interesting article with an exercise (and links to other information) to do just that.