Want Butterflies Next Spring? Don’t Rake Your Fall Leaves, National Wildlife Federation Urges

Drop that rake! Along with fall leaves, you’re raking up the butterfly pupae attached to them, as well as winter habitat for salamanders, chipmunks, box turtles and toads. Let them fertilize your lawn instead.

Biologists at the National Wildlife Federation are urging people to stop raking their leaves. Here’s why:

1. It’s unnatural. Leaves are meant to stay where they fall for all the reasons below. “A leaf layer several inches deep is a natural thing in any area where trees naturally grow,” NWF says on its website. The leaf layer is its own mini ecosystem.

2. Wild Life Habitat. Many wildlife species live in or rely on the leaf layer for shelter and food, including salamanders, chipmunks, box turtles, toads, shrews, earthworms, many insects species.

3. The Birds and the Butterflies.Along with the leaves you’re throwing away butterfly and moth pupae attached to them. Not only will you not have any beautiful butterflies in your yard come spring, you also won’t have many birds, who rely on caterpillars to feed their babies.

4. Free fertilizer and mulch. For gardeners, fallen leaves offer a double benefit. They form a natural mulch/ground cover that helps suppress weeds and keep moisture in the soil.

And, as they decompose, they add nutrients to the soil. Why spend money on mulch and fertilizer when the trees will do it for you?

5. Reduce Waste. Throwing leaves away in plastic bags to is very wasteful. Yard trimmings account for around 13% of solid waste (33 million tons annually) in landfills, where the leaves rot and emit carbon into the air instead of into the soil.

6. Reduce Pollution. Gas leaf blowers and the trucks used to haul them away cause pollution. So does artificial fertilizer run-off, which is contributing to the largest “dead zone” on Earth in the Gulf of Mexico. There is no run-off from leaf fertilizer.

7. Save time and your back. You have enough work to do, why add another counterproductive chore?

If you have to rake your leaves, compost them or send them to a community garden. Anywhere but a landfill.





93 responses to “Want Butterflies Next Spring? Don’t Rake Your Fall Leaves, National Wildlife Federation Urges”

  1. Paul Schaub Avatar
    Paul Schaub

    It also gives slugs a good cover so that in spring they can feed on the tender greens in your garden.Where are leaves put in the landfills?
    Our garden andkitchen refuse is composted by the city and you can by
    the compost from them.

    1. Janine Lacasse Avatar
      Janine Lacasse

      I thought this was a great idea – I left the leaves under my apple trees over the winter. Thought it would make great mulch cover. This caused the overwintering of pathogens that gave my apple trees a disease in the bark the following year.

      1. Mark W. Avatar
        Mark W.

        Apple trees are subject to disease regardless

      2. Susan Hogan Avatar
        Susan Hogan

        I was just told by a farmer that if you pick up every apple on the ground around the tree…you will not have worms. : )

        1. Alex Avatar


        2. Jen Merkel Avatar
          Jen Merkel

          I have a concern: I just recently sodded my entire yard (all 400 sq. ft). It’s just recently established, I’ve leaf-blown & mowed twice. I’m fertilizing this week as advised by my garden center & sod farm. Before winter, I should cut it short. Because it’s new sod, should I let the leaves continue covering after the last mow? What if one of the trees is dropping tons of pine needles? The neighbors’ trees are pine & maple.

          1. s strasberg Avatar
            s strasberg

            pine kills grass. don’t leave the needles

      3. Ruth Avatar

        Is it good to mow the leaves, and leave them on the grass? This is what I have been doing-

        1. Deb Thompson Avatar
          Deb Thompson

          Me too.The leaves break down so much faster and in the spring the new grass covers it all up.

      4. Lock Avatar

        In a natural setting the apples would all have been eaten by birds, squirrels, deer etc. & the pathogens would be a n
        on issue.

    2. Catherine Avatar

      We have a large yard and lots of leaves. We rake them into the garden after mowing them into smaller pieces. Slugs, yes. Great perennials the following year anyway, absolutely.

    3. Sharyn Avatar

      YUP! I use the paper yard waste bags so that they can be composted by my city. I bought some of the “Super Compost” from the city for $20 a scoop- almost filled my pick-up truck bed. Good stuff.

      1. Barbara Avatar

        So you bring it to the city and then you buy it back???? Why not put it in the corner of your yard for composting (or in a composting binn)? Saves you $20 a scoop and twice gaz for bringing and collecting. Does not make much sense to me.

        1. Chris Avatar


          1. Michael Murphy Avatar
            Michael Murphy

            no rats if you don’t include meat and dairy. We use compost tumblers to speed up the decomposition by making it easier to mix

          2. Jeanette Avatar

            You do not get rats from leaves.

        2. Jane Avatar

          That’s what we do in UK…makes wonderful leaf mould, goes on garden nothing wasted.

        3. Deb Thompson Avatar
          Deb Thompson

          Yep, that’s what we do, also. To me the fallen leaves are a gift.

    4. Beth Davis Avatar
      Beth Davis

      I live in a National Historic District and they “demand” that you have your leaves raked by December so-and-so. If not, you are frowned upon as being in non-compliance.

      Trust me, I’d just as soon not rake them myself nor have to pay anyone to do so.

      : (~~~

      1. Wally Norton Avatar
        Wally Norton

        Show the District this article. In a perfect world they’ll see the error of their way and rescind the order.

      2. KayCee Avatar

        Yah and I am going to bet you don’t live in the woods and ate no Walt Whitman. Gonna guess you live on a heavily wooded suburban lot that you don’t like to maintain. Do you drive everyone nuts with a leaf blower or are you more passive aggressive allowing the wind to take your leaves down the road to bother some poor old treeless sod?

    5. Sherry Avatar

      exactly !! I have never in my life seen so many slugs as I did this past summer. Ate everything ! It wasn’t for lack of trying to get rid of them either. One a good note, my cousin would come & get them on the morning for fishing lol

      1. willow Avatar

        Beer in a Frisbee settled into the dirt of your garden will get rid of your slugs. They cann’t resist it and crawl in and drown.

  2. jane eades Avatar
    jane eades

    Leaf-raking goes with another outmoded garden activity, the achievement of flat, plain, non-biodiverse lawn.

    People whose gardens are turned over to lawn and shrubs, who insist on raking, might be persuaded to use fallen leaves as mulch beneath the shrubs, where they can, as you so rightly point out, continue to support invertebrates, and eventually get digested back into the topsoil, bringing great benefit to the roots.

    Best if the gardener rakes up *wet* leaves, because they rot better, and wind soon redistributes them round the garden again otherwise.

    The Tidy People can also be reminded that leaf mould is an ideal medium for many Spring bulbs. It will be low in nutrients and high in soil conditioning mycorrhizae.

    Leaves take longer to decompose than kitchen waste so if preferred they can be separately saved in a dedicated compost bin or well moistened and stuffed into sacks to store undisturbed for a few seasons. Pine needles can be raked up and decomposed separately also, as mulch for acid-loving plants. It is good to understand the resource your corner of the Planet is offering.

    Although not quite as free-form as the rewilding approach, at least we might coax more people towards organic methods. The more householders build up the local biodiversity the more wondrous the results, a good back yard will have natural variety and plenty of deliberately protected habitats.

    1. Anna Avatar

      Great comment!

    2. Michael Murphy Avatar
      Michael Murphy

      chop up the leaves and mix it with the high nitrogen kitchen waste to speed the decomposition of the leaves and give you a more nutrient balanced compost

  3. Jorgen Fagerquist Avatar
    Jorgen Fagerquist

    No, I am not giving up good composting material for my garden.

  4. Kristy Avatar

    And at the bottom of the article…ads for leaf blowers. Lol

    1. SR Avatar

      Probably has more to do with your search history than the website. My ads are for car rentals and clothing

      1. Skylar Avatar

        Went to look for my ads. None! Forgot I had an ad blocker :p

      2. JB Avatar

        My ads show Duct tape and shovels.. ;<{P}}}}}}

      3. Lezlie Combs Avatar
        Lezlie Combs

        Mine are for off the grid batteries and Dead and Company (Grateful Dead) tickets.

    2. Debra Avatar

      Mine were for clothing

  5. Grant Campbell Avatar
    Grant Campbell

    People pay me to clean leaves out of their yards all fall and winter and I try to tell them this. Good thing for me is I take hundreds of bags of leaves home every year which I grind up ad compost for my own gardens. I reuse the bags over and over to keep out of land fills. After two years these leaves make the most incredible mulch.

    1. Shirley Freeman Avatar
      Shirley Freeman

      Can you give me pointers on how to grind them up & any pitfalls to avoid, how to store, do you add anything? Thanks!

    2. Michael Murphy Avatar
      Michael Murphy

      LOL! I had a leaf service come to me to try and get me to pay them to remove the leaves. Instead, I convinced them to dump two truckloads of shredded leaves on my front yard, which I shredded up further and raked into a 1″ thick layer. By the next spring they were incorporated into the topsoil. I did this two years in a row in the mid 90’s and I haven’t had to water my lawn during the summer ever since!

  6. Hallie Flynn Avatar
    Hallie Flynn

    If you don’t rake then it will kill the grass. Weeds are more likely to come in and grow on bare ground. It can also be a big fire hazard which is a big issue in California. You can buy biodegradable paper bags and you can also use it as compost or leaf mold for your garden.

    1. Jane Avatar

      we just “cut” the grass one more time after the leaves have fallen

      1. Susan Avatar

        That’s what I do. I just chop them up really good with lawn mower.

    2. KayCee Avatar

      Why would you want leaf mold for a garden? Please do tell! I thought mold the enemy of good produce.

      1. MrBill Avatar

        It’s a term used in England — mould, with a u

    3. Tonty Avatar

      Then kill the grass.

  7. Margaret Kelliher Avatar
    Margaret Kelliher

    Can you speak to the impact on your lawn of doing this?

    1. MMcclain Avatar

      Yes! This is my concern too. Will my enormous volume of pecan an so water oak leaves kill my fescue lawn? They get wet and heavy.

  8. Dotty Hoesly Avatar
    Dotty Hoesly

    When you live in the city it’s pretty hard to not rake them up. Can’t leave them on the lawn & driveway. They make slush & as we get older we don’t want to fall. I have about 3 huge piles in my back yard mulching now. My 4 chickens will help too! I do leave some in my flower beds but it also leaves such a mess. I’m ready to move because way too many leaves & I can’t vaccume most up. Blowing only when it’s nice out so I rake every day. Good exercise but now it’s wet & cold.

  9. Kathy Avatar

    Do the leaves kill the grass on the lawn if left on it?

    1. concerned citizen Avatar
      concerned citizen

      Yes! Leaves will kill a lawn, which leads to weed and pest infestations. Your neighbors won’t be happy. Plus in many areas, as another person has mentioned, they are an incredible fire hazard and some cities/counties will fine you for poor upkeep during fire season.

      A very poorly researched and incomplete article.

      1. Dion Metcalfe Avatar
        Dion Metcalfe

        I don’t rake my leaves at all. The other year, we had a dry summer. All of my neighbours lawns were brown. Mine was a nice beautiful green. I also don’t cut my grass, and I live in Canada’s National Capital. Lawns aren’t meant to be cut, and leaves aren’t meant to be raked. It’s unnatural.

      2. Michael Murphy Avatar
        Michael Murphy

        incorrect. your lawn is going dormant by the time the leaves fall, and if you simply aid decomposition by chopping them up with a mower they will actually help your lawn by improving aeration (earthworms do your work for you as long as you don’t poison them with inorganic fertilizer and herbicides) and returning nutrients to the soil. In addition, the fine leaf bits can actually help keep weed seeds down by acting as mulch in the grass

    2. Tara Avatar

      No, this is a misunderstanding. Maybe if you left inches of thick leaf layer it would harm your lawn but some leaves, just fall apart between the grass blades by spring.

      1. El Avatar

        Actually, the impact of letting the leaves lie on the lawn is determined by a number of factors, such as the number of trees, the soil type, the amount of/lack of soil (my lawn has a lot of bedrock poking up through the soil and doesn’t do grass very well, so I have creeping thyme and clover as well as grass), climate – temperatures and rain/snowfall. If the leaves aren’t raked, come spring, the lawn is a disaster. However, I have a big leaf mulch bin, which is used for the garden and the rest gets tossed over a slope, to degrade on its own – and provide sustenance for a variety of critters. It all works well.

    3. Chris Avatar

      I left a section of leaves about 2″ deep all winter in my back yard… in the spring, i raked them up and the grass was still green and healthy underneath from being insulated. Looked great all summer too! Leaves do create a natural layer of insulation for the trees, etc. I think there is a real purpose for them as the article suggests

  10. rick Avatar

    I’ve heard that not raking will kill the grass ?

    1. Tara Avatar

      Maybe a huge thick layer, but a light layer is actually fertilizer.

  11. Pat. Avatar

    my hubby rakes them to the driveway, mows them (mulching blade on our mowers), then spreads the much into our flower gardens … everyone wins !!!

  12. Bob Avatar

    If you’ve got a mulching blade on your mower, just run the mower over the leaves and leave them. I never rake i just mow them to mulch

    1. Jim Avatar

      I do the same Bob .. mulching blades on my rider .. easy peasy and so many good nutrients to feed the lawn.

    2. Laurie Avatar

      We have been doing the same thing for over twenty years. We just mow and leave. The lawn looks great and we never use fertilizer.

  13. Grit Avatar

    We never rake our lawn, it is just silly in Texas where we aren’t going to get any snow. Of course I do have the benefit these days of chickens, their scratching breaks it all down much faster.

  14. Cynthia Avatar

    I have a mulching mower . . . and mow right over the leaves. Now then, I live in Hawai’i and have to mow year ’round but the mowed leaves and grass clippings are mulched by the mower and fall back into the lawn.

    The dropped fronds in my banana grove are left there to rot in place becoming mulch and nutrients for the grove.

  15. Stuart P Avatar
    Stuart P

    I mulch them in place with a mower that runs on rechargeable lithium ion batteries. Not good for the pupae, I suppose, but the grass gets exposed to the sun and the soil gets fertilized. And on 80-degree Fall days, it keeps the Copperheads back in the adjacent woods.

  16. Doug Avatar

    You can mow them which cuts them into small pieces and leave them over winter and they will be gone by spring.

  17. Sadie Avatar

    Mow them up into bag and use shredded leaves as mulch. Leaf litter is primary habitat for deer ticks which are a major health issue—use the leaves wisely, they’re a free resource but left on sidewalks or in deep piles on lawns they a nuisance or hazard

  18. A. Hole' Avatar
    A. Hole’

    I just blow mine into the neighbors’ yard.

  19. M Avatar

    It doesn’t kill the grass!!

  20. Don Laessig Avatar
    Don Laessig

    what I do is to use my riding mower and pulverize all of the leaves on lawn, so it does stay on grass, and not blow into neighbors yards. Much easier than raking, and quicker too

  21. Gregory Wagner Avatar
    Gregory Wagner

    I burn em.

    1. Jobu Avatar

      I burn them where they lie. Great way to start urban renewal projects.

  22. Grassman Avatar

    Um… garden advice, ok, i disagree, but whatever.

    But leaving a good layer of leaves on your yard WILL kill your grass.

    1. KG Avatar

      the fallen leaves haven’t killed my grass yet, after 15 yrs i still have grass in the spring…

      BTW, what did they do before rakes were invented?????

  23. ds Avatar

    if you mow your yard it makes the large leaves real small that way it doesn’t hurt your yard because they can decompose faster. i’ve never raked leaves, always mow them makes good fertilizer for grass, keeps that grass covered and wetter longer, it works for us.

  24. Tammy Avatar

    You could try mowing over the leaves to break them down quicker. Even better if your lawnmower has a mulching option. Still, I think SOME leaves will require removal, but certainly keep some on your lawn for the nutrient value.

  25. Dan Edwards Avatar

    If leaves are left unshredded on lawns or most ‘suburban’ gardens they can mat down and become impervious to rain penetration. Better to shred them with a lawn mower or leaf shredder and then blow them into the garden. As a more ‘naturalist’ landscape company we try to discourage ping all out for perfect lawns which by nature can become a monoculture that demand chemicals, irrigation and weekly maintenance. If I sold you a plant that was as needy as a lawn, you’d laugh at me as you walked away. We take put a lot of lawn areas and do rain gardens, native restoration, etc. We allow lawns to become just biodiverse green spaces. No chemical controls, no watering, allowing clovers, growing ivys and other species to find a home. We do leaf removals, but our area recycles leaves. We then bring in shredded and decomposed leaves from a local municipality who only charge us $20 per truck and trailer load, close to 8 yards of leaf mulch. Rich in carbon and nitrogen. Leaving an unimproved area of a garden is good too allowing places for habitat.

  26. warren Avatar

    have not raked leaves in years…. what ever leaves that are in the yard after my last grass cutting stays there till the following year and get put on the garden to keep the ground wet and the weeds at bay
    that is the only food my garden gets and I get a good yield
    every year

  27. Kayle Avatar

    Not raking kills our grass. I agree completely with the article. But we can’t leave ours down.

  28. Sue Avatar

    I rake, and compost both leaves and other (seedless) lawn waste. Sometimes I’ll rake leaves onto my beds to help suppress weeds, and because the soil is “like butter” in the spring. But if I want them to compost, that works better in a pile.

    I don’t like to leave the whole yard that’s visible to the public unraked, because it’ll kill what passes as lawn, I don’t want the neighbors complaining, and because I don’t want to accidentally step on a toad, shrew, worm, etc. who might be under them. I also don’t want to slip on wet leaves. So at least I would rake paths that I would normally walk.

    But I do rake a “mountain range” of leaves on my house lot along my fence line to suppress weeds, and for any critters who might want a place to keep warm or move under the snow. Mainly, I want it raked away from my foundation. (And then I rake that up the next year to finish composting.)

    All that is a long way of saying what Kayle said in one line. I enjoyed the article.

  29. Jeanne Avatar

    Sure, and watch the neighborhood burn down from pedestrians cigarette tossed into dry leaves when startled by snake or skunk or rats hiding in the leaves…then, if we ever get rain, get sued for the passerby tripping on wet leaves on the side walk… or the crash from the flooded road from leaf filled gutters which backed up and flooded the homes of three neighbors and…. Better idea: rake them up, and if you are not using pesticides and herbicides, use it to start a compost pile

  30. Carol Avatar

    …”Mulching blade” on my mower… I ride a John Deere for our 7 acres of grass. Never knew there was such a thing but sounds fantastic!

    1. Peter Avatar

      I owne 3 acres and I do exactly the same thing as you, I have a perfect result !

  31. Joelene DeFranco Avatar
    Joelene DeFranco

    I just disagree to a point. If those leaves are not cleaned up it is very difficult to remove them in the spring. They will destroy the grass and choke out perennials.

    1. Peter Avatar

      You have to rake your flower bed in the spring, the leaves would have been using as protective aqainst the frost if you are in a freezing zone ! You could shred the same leaves you just removed, and mulch them and reapply the mulch in your flower bed around your flowers.

  32. don Avatar

    I don’t want a mini-ecosystem in my yard. I want a layer of thick, healthy grass my kids can run around and play on.

  33. Epiphanio Joseph Avatar

    It’s ignorance on the part of most of the men including me. Thanks for the education.

  34. Ryan Avatar

    So I should leave my leaves lying around for the pests to thrive in rather than compost it properly like a human being who knows what he’s doing? If the leaves layer can snuff out weeds, what it it going to do for the turf that I maintain? Folks, from experience I can tell you that this is great advice if you want to have a poor, insect ridden lawn or are completely incapable of pulling a rake. Otherwise, do as we have done for centuries and rake them up. No need for bags, put them in your compost pile. Not today, internet, not today…

    1. loveagoodlaugh Avatar

      lol people have been raking lawns for centuries? hahaha best laugh today

      1. Robin Avatar

        They have. Rakes were invented centuries ago by the Chinese. Don’t take my word for it. Google it.

  35. Nicky Avatar

    I tried leaving the leaves one year. They killed off the lawn.

  36. michael Avatar

    the power of not doing the present normal things…leave the leafs, the food for many…blessings..m

  37. John Kearney Avatar
    John Kearney

    Leaf litter is also the habitat of black-legged ticks that cause Lyme Disease. I remove leaves in areas where people will be walking on a regular basis.

  38. Sandra Berry-Ashpole Avatar
    Sandra Berry-Ashpole

    Why do we waste so much time and energy on grass. Get rid of it!! Sow white clover seeds instead, and you will get the most gorgeous green space which will not need cutting, is soft to walk on, attracts bees at certain times of the year and doesn’t require watering. It is drought resistant unlike grass which turns brown if you don’t water. We are not allowed to water our lawns here as water is so precious and will be very difficult to obtain in the future. It is also very expensive to waste it on grass. Grass is bad for the environment in many ways.

  39. Eric Avatar

    Too many comments to read. So much f this is redundant, so be it. Number one is true in a sense that our area was once a hardwood Forrest. Now it’s grass. Not w grass to s pretty to look at and is a major contributor to water runoff. Yes it sucks that way. OK. With that said, raking or blowing leaves is important as they can kill off grass and clog storm water drains. Using a mulching mower is recommended as it does a lot of what number one advocates. Too much mulching wiki kill for free the grass. Note. Decaying leaves will,produce acidic soil. Grasses live a neutral PH. So make sure to check soil PH and add lime to your lawn as needed. This one chore will gice you a thicker lawn while chocking out weeds. One other benefit is you greatly reduce the need to fertilize.

  40. Julia Avatar

    Makes a whole lot of sense to me not to rake, after reading your article.
    Come spring do I just leave them?

  41. wychywmn9 Avatar

    It depends on the type of trees. Oak leaves don’t break down as easily as maple, and kill the grass.

    If you feel you need to rake leaves, run over them with a lawnmower instead to break them down. It doesn’t have to be a mulching mower either.