Do you really need to rake leaves?
From an ecological standpoint—no, it's not necessary.
Leaving the leaves in your yard can benefit wildlife and save space in landfills when you don't throw them out. Lawns and gardens are artificial landscapes no matter how you look at them, and raking leaves is essentially for aesthetic purposes.
Leaves can provide shelter for butterflies, beetles, bees, moths, and other small creatures that benefit the ecosystem.
However, to maintain a healthy lawn, excessive leaf matter should be removed. A thick layer of leaves can inhibit growth if not removed very soon in the spring. The most important point with fall cleanup is that the tree leaves are not covering a significant portion of the turfgrass canopy. Excessive leaves can make turf damage from voles and mice more extensive in the spring.
How do I maintain a tidy lawn and still help wildlife?
If you want to rake the leaves for aesthetics, rake and pile them up in a not so visible place. This will keep your yard tidy and will allow habitat for insects and other small creatures. For instance, you can place them on a shaded steep slope to help reduce potential soil erosion. It'll also help the earthworms thrive!
Help save the overwintering caterpillars and leave the leaves! You'll be happy to see more birds in your yard come spring.
If you do insist on raking and disposing of leaves, mulch leaves by running the lawnmower over them and leaving the shredded leaves and grass in the lawn. This also adds needed nutrients back to your lawn minimizing the need of added fertilizers.
Or consider making a compost bin or pile.
Get our general composting tips.
Get tips for composting fall leaves.
Do NOT blow leaves into the street!
Most people don’t think of grass clippings and leaves as possible pollutants but they can be when they end up in waterways through our storm drain system. These materials can contribute nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, which cause unwanted and uncontrolled growth of algae and aquatic weeds in the waterways. Too much algae is harmful to streams and lakes. It blocks sunlight and prevents other plants from growing. When it dies and decays, it also takes much needed oxygen away from fish.
Be sure to sweep up any leaves and grass from driveways and sidewalks so they don’t end up down the storm drain. See why is stormwater an issue and learn 10 things you can do to prevent stormwater pollution.