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Why You Should Leave the Leaves in Spring, Too

Spring is in the air, and for many gardeners, that means it’s time to start cleaning up the yard. But what if I told you that your garden beds will be better off with a little mess?

Leaving the leaves is not just for fall. Here are seven critical reasons to keep them on your garden beds as winter turns into spring, and spring into summer.

1. Protects good bugs.

Leaf litter provides shelter and nutrients to beneficial insects like centipedes and millipedes. Photograph by Jim Powell for Gardenista, from \10 Essential Insects You Need in the Garden.
Above: Leaf litter provides shelter and nutrients to beneficial insects like centipedes and millipedes. Photograph by Jim Powell for Gardenista, from 10 Essential Insects You Need in the Garden.

Leaves provide a vital habitat for pollinators like butterflies, moths, and native bees as well as other beneficial insects. All of them need a place to overwinter. They all come out of diapause (bug hibernation) at different times between March and May. Removing the leaves too early means you’re throwing out Luna moths, red-banded hairstreak butterflies, and leaf cutter, miner, and mason bees.

2. Provides free mulch.

No need to buy mulch. Leaves keep moisture in and weeds out just as well as wood mulch.

3. Builds healthy soil.

Mulched leaves in a vegetable garden. Photograph by Sheila Brown via Flickr.
Above: Mulched leaves in a vegetable garden. Photograph by Sheila Brown via Flickr.

Leaves decompose over the course of the year and by doing so, they provide the trees exactly what they need in the way of nutrients…since they came from the tree. And when leaves break down in garden beds, they add to the soil structure that keeps your soil, and by extension, your plants happy.

4. Reduces pest issues.

No pesticides necessary when you leave the leaves, thus providing a home for beneficial insects that eat mosquitoes and other garden pests, such as dragonflies and crane flies. Native insects also attract birds and bats that eat mosquitoes. And leaf litter is a draw as well for opossums that love to eat ticks.

5. Decreases your carbon footprint:

Fallen leaves gathered from the yard and placed in a garden bed. Photograph by jacki-dee via Flickr.
Above: Fallen leaves gathered from the yard and placed in a garden bed. Photograph by jacki-dee via Flickr.

The methods by which many homeowners remove leaves from their property are often not very eco-friendly: Using a leaf blower contributes to greenhouse gases and noise pollution, and harms the topsoil as well. And if the leaves are placed in garbage bag and sent to the landfill, the leaves decompose without oxygen, producing methane gas. When you rake the leaves into your garden beds, the only energy you’re using is your own.

6. Contributes to a balanced ecosystem:

Above: Snowdrops love damp-ish conditions, and fallen leaves are great at locking in moisture. Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer, from Gardening 101: Snowdrops.

Leaves are not trash. They are an integral part of your ecosystem. They provide food, shelter, and nutrients. Your garden is not just a bunch of plants but an interconnected system in which all parts are equally important for its health. For instance, caterpillars are the only thing most baby songbirds eat. Keeping the leaves helps caterpillars thrive, which in turn helps birds in the spring.

6. Saves time.

Leaving the leaves gives you back time to do other more enjoyable gardening tasks! Like planting more plants! (For time savers, see Landscaping: 10 Clever Gardening Tips to Save Time.)

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