Leaving fall leaves in your yard could have benefits

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COLUMBIA - Homeowners might have a good reason to skip a dreaded annual fall chore.

The National Wildlife Federation is encouraging homeowners to leave fall leaves in their yards to act as habitats for animals and nutrients for their lawns and gardens.

The NWF says animals like frogs, turtles, birds, mammals and many species of insects utilize fallen leaves as a source of shelter and nesting material. 

"Lots of moths, butterflies, beetles and flies, their eggs will stay in decaying plant matter over winter," Wildlife Regional Supervisor John George said. "Then when the days start getting longer and the nights start getting warmer, they will hatch and further decompose that material and start that years growing season crop of insects."

George says there is one species of animal that has been shown to really benefit from leaving the leaves.

"People's properties, even in town, have more importance to our native plants and animals in our Missouri landscape then what they realize," George said. "It's as simple as having enough caterpillar larvae to feed bluebirds that next year or any native bird species. If we do the right things in our lawns those native bird species can do well.

The leaves on your front lawn can also be used a a natural fertilizer.

"Think of how nature does it," George said. "Nature deposits all of the dead leaves and grass litter to the ground where it slowly decomposes and adds nutrients to the soil which can slowly be taken up by plants and used to their benefit. So that has some benefits to your lawn."

Another benefit to leaving leaves on your front yard is a reduction of yard waste in landfills. The NWF says leaves and yard waste account for more than 13 percent of the nation's solid yard waste, totaling 33 million tons a year.

George has a few tips for homeowners concerned about possible dead grass or complying with their Homeowner's Association Rules.

"If you have too big of a pile of leaves on your grass lawn for too long, you could create dead spots," George said. "Most people do it off to the side, under the shrubs or mulch them really fine."