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Leave the Leaves

leave the leaves

WCVE producer Steve Clark and entomologist Dr. Art Evans invoke their annual mantra “lose the lawn, leave the leaves.”

SC: I’m Steve Clark with Dr. Art Evans, entomologist, and this is What’s Bugging You. I was out at the old same place the other day doing the old same thing . . . (laughing) mowing the lawn.

AE: Oh, I’m sorry.

SC: And I noticed that leaves were beginning to fall on a few of the trees.

AE: Well, it sounds like it’s a good time to start talking about our annual mantra, “Lose the lawn, leave the leaves.”

SC: Lose the lawn and leave the leaves.

AE: Leave the leaves. We spend so much time and effort growing a lawn and then raking it and mowing it and to what end? It doesn’t feed anything. It just attracts more insects that we consider pests. It’s of no use to wildlife at all. It just makes no sense. And then when the leaves fall you have this natural source of mulch and yet people habitually rake up the leaves, haul them away, and often noisily so. And then in the spring buy mulch to replace what the leaves were already providing in the first place.

SC: I think that the leaves fall where you don’t want them to kill the grass.

AE: Well.

SC: But you’d like to have the leaves perhaps fall under the tree.

AE: I do have a solution to that.

SC: What?

AE: (laughing) Reduce the lawn.

SC: Oh.

AE: As a biologist I’m looking at, “How can we make our gardens, our yards suitable for wildlife?” As natural habitats continue to shrink, it’s important to consider our own little piece of real estate as a wildlife refuge. And how can we encourage wildlife to visit our yards, to stay there, and give them shelter over the winter? And one of the best places to do that is to leave the leaves. And again, I realize that to a lot of people that is just sloppy yard keeping, or “I’ve always raked up the leaves.” I get it. There are ways that you can make it appear as though this is by design, not that you’re just lazy. You can rake up the leaves in such a way so there’s a nice neat line. Pile it up under around the trees or shrubs you have already as you would mulch. Make it look nice and neat, and then let it settle in place and begin to serve as a shelter for all the little creatures that need a place to hide during the winter. And then of course in springtime as things warm up and the FBI’s I call it, Fungus, Bacteria, and Insects, all the agents of decomposition begin going to work they can start breaking down those leaves and recycling those nutrients contained within and make them available for all sorts of organisms. The Xerces Society, which is an organization dedicated to invertebrate conservation, has their annual Leave the Leaves campaign. Their current phrase is “Leaves Are Not Litter.” (laughing) I like that a lot. But if you check out #leavetheleaves you might find more information about how you too can improve your gardening practices and make your immediate environment more hospitable to wildlife.

SC: What insects live in this litter?

AE: Well in my yard I will see beetles. I see millipedes, roly polies. There are mites. There are beetle larvae. One of the things I’m looking for and have yet to find is larvae of fireflies or lightening bugs. I know they’re in there somewhere. They have to be because the show up in my yard every year, but I haven’t seen any yet. And that’s just tip of the iceberg. (music playing)

SC: Dr. Art Evans is a Research Associate at the Virginia Museum of Natural History. You’ll find photos, audio, and links to the museum and Art’s Facebook page at ideastations.org/radio/bugs.

Learn more about fallen leaves in yards as habitat #leavetheleaves.

Learn more on the Xerces Society’s “Leaves Are Not Litter” campaign.