Much like Americans’ addiction to mowing their lawns, in the fall, property owners heave a tortured sigh, get out the rakes and start toiling under the trees.
Generations of upstanding citizens have been taught that flat, tidy expanses of green lawn show status and pride in one’s property. Social perceptions will not change overnight.
However, one need not look far to see a formerly natural area that has been dozed for development, one more lot cleared for another house, a former field turned into estates, the trees on a wetland corner indiscriminately chopped and left to rot. As we use more and more of the land for our human purposes, nature is pushed into smaller corners and in some instances extirpated.
In “Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard,” Douglas Tallamy shares easy methods for encouraging nature to thrive alongside us. While not mowing the grass may go against the grain, Tallamy offers ways to create a lush backdrop while still fitting into societal norms.
One thing you can do is leave some leaves on the ground. Bats, frogs, bugs and other wildlife depend on leaf litter to shelter themselves through the cold winter. Removing leaves eliminates vital wildlife habitat.
“Critters ranging from turtles and toads to songbirds, mammals and invertebrates rely on leaf litter for food, shelter and nesting material,” said a National Wildlife Federation article, written last September. “Many moth and butterfly caterpillars overwinter in fallen leaves before emerging in spring.”
While we shrug off our coats in our constant 74 degrees throughout the cold months, hardy creatures somehow survive outside, no matter how low the temperatures go. But they would not survive on a naked lawn.
They also would not survive the filthy, smoggy fire people enjoy making with their leaves. Leaf fires are not good campfires. They send loads of noxious black smoke into the air we breathe.
Last year, county engineer Jen Sharkey told Steuben County Commissioners she received complaints about leaf burning along roadsides.
The city of Angola banned open burning decades ago. Instead people may rake their leaves streetside and city employees pick them up. Those leaves are then taken to the wastewater treatment plant where they are piled and eventually turn into a rich compost that can be used in planting projects.
“Leaves form a natural mulch that helps suppress weeds and fertilizes the soil as it breaks down. Why spend money on mulch and fertilizer when you can make your own? Turning leaves into solid waste is, well, wasteful,” said National Wildlife Federation Naturalist David Mizejewski.
There is a theory that fallen leaves somehow damage your lawn. A healthy smattering of leaves will actually enrich it. Excess leaves can be gathered and used to blanket flower and vegetable gardens. As they break down through the winter, they provide natural nutrients that will encourage growth in the spring.