Your yard is part of the natural landscape and can offer food and cover for insects, mammals, and birds. Leaving the leaves where they fall adds nutrients back to the soil and provides great cover for insects seeking shelter from the cold and snow.
The leaf litter also provides an extra layer of insulation and protection for native, ground and cavity nesting bees and wasps. Some native butterflies and moths have even adapted their chrysalis to mimic the look of dead leaves and seeds. They will overwinter in the leaf litter and hatch in early spring, providing pollination services for early blooming flowers.
Standing, dead plants can also benefit insects and other wildlife. While some native bees and wasps nest underground, others overwinter in trees, logs, rotting wood, and the hollow stems of plants, like purple coneflower and goldenrod. Plant stems also provide shelter and hiding spaces for birds, small mammals and insects, and the seeds from dead plant heads offer nutrient-rich food for birds and small mammals. Leaving seed heads also enables your perennials to spread, and some birds even use seeds with whispy attachments, like milkweed, as nesting material.
Often the biggest barrier to doing less during fall cleanup is our desire for everything to look tidy. If you’re faced with this dilemma, consider framing in the “untidy” areas in your yard with low fencing, stone, or timbers to make your effort look more deliberate. Adding a sign noting that you are managing your space for wildlife can help inform neighbors of your relaxed approach to fall cleanup. If you still feel compelled to tidy up your front yard, you can still take a more hands-off approach in your backyard – every little bit helps!
If you would like to learn more about land conservation or how to better manage your land for the native species it supports, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo of Chickadee courtesy Marie Read.