An Important Reason Not to Rake the Leaves on Your Lawn

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Why you should give up the rake and learn to love your leaf litter.

Somewhere along the way, much of the rough and tumble beauty of the American landscape turned into cookie-cutter manicured lawns. It's like home ownership now comes with explicit directions: There will be a white picket fence surrounding a plot of tidy grass; there will be no weeds and there will be no, gasp, fallen autumn leaves.

This is all problematic for many reasons – more of which you can read about in the related stories below – but I'm here to talk specifically about raking. Or, not raking, actually. And I am going to beg you: Do not rake your leaves!

Here's why.

We've written before about the benefits of leaving the leaves on the grass – it just makes for a much healthier lawn. But one thing we didn't mention is that within that leaf litter is a whole thriving habitat that would really like to stay.

David Mizejewski, a Naturalist at the National Wildlife Federation, agrees.

"Leaves are nature's natural mulch and fertilizer," Mizejewski says. "When you rake all the leaves away, you are removing that natural benefit to your garden and lawns – then people turn around and spend money to buy mulch."

He then goes on to explain that butterflies and songbirds also depend on fallen leaves.

"Over winter months, a lot of butterflies and moths as pupa or caterpillar are in the leaf litter, and when you rake it up you are removing the whole population of butterflies you would otherwise see in your yard," he says.

That's right. By raking, you are destroying moth and butterfly habitat, which means fewer pollinators come spring. And that also means fewer things for birds to eat, which means birds will be less attracted to your garden. With so much habitat destruction as it is, we should all be working to make our gardens more attractive to wildlife, not less so.

Why would anyone want to spend the time raking, removing natural mulch and fertilizer, and killing off a slew of beneficial insects as well? Save the butterflies, bring on the birds, ditch the rake ... and enjoy your lazy weekend mornings all season. You're welcome.