“Leaving the leaves” is how we can help pollinators get ready for cold weather.
Last autumn, Jessica Miller took some of her neighbors’ raked-up leaves and spread them out in her yard. She put layers in her garden beds and small piles around her trees and shrubs. In a society that prizes the pristine lawn and tidy garden, leaves are often seen as a messy nuisance. But one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. In Jessica’s yard, leaf piles are not messes but strategically placed patches of habitat that help both wildlife and the health of her yard.
“Nature doesn’t make garbage,” says Jessica, an environmental entomologist who shares about the wonder of insects through her organization Dragons Wynd. “The less you’re manipulating, the more that nature is going to do what it would normally do.” Fallen leaves are a resource. Over time, they decompose, returning nutrients that trees and plants need the following year.
Before leaves break down, they provide essential shelter for insects. Jessica explains that there are a lot of insects that use leaves to overwinter. By October, insects beneficial to our ecosystems may be bedding down, some making cocoons in leaves on the ground. That includes native bees, butterflies, moths, beetles—and even amphibians like frogs and salamanders. “Leaves create air pockets and insulated spaces,” says Jessica. “They become like little sleeping bags.”