Most People Know Fallen Leaves Help Animals, But They’re Still Clearing Them Out, Study Finds

This time of year, the pretty fall colors lead to huge piles of leaves in our yards. Though it’s tempting to completely clear out the mess, there are benefits to leaving some of those leaves around. That includes the fact that fallen leaves provide a home during the winter for many animals looking to survive the colder months. A new survey finds that people are aware of this, but most are still clearing out their yards.

The National Wildlife Federation recently polled nearly 1,200 American adults on their leaf pile views as part of their first ever Leave the Leaves Report. They found that 72% of respondents are aware that fallen leaves benefit wildlife and biodiversity, but only 25% of them leave the leaves where they are to reap these benefits. Despite that, 82% said they’re open to doing so in the future.

Man clears leaves with leaf blower
PHOTO: ADOBE STOCK / UNGVAR

David Mizejewski, naturalist for the National Wildlife Federation, says, “We’re seeing the majority of people removing their leaves with only a small handful using the waste for other purposes such as compost or mulch. This tells us there’s an opportunity to educate the public about how fallen leaves can still benefit wildlife and the garden no matter if you remove them from your yard or leave them be.”

Using leaves as mulch helps lighten heavy soils, helps retain moisture in the soil, and boosts the population of beneficial organisms that can help whatever you choose to plant. They can also help protect cold weather-tolerant plants if you use them to shield these plants from frost. When it comes to wildlife, pollinators like bumble bees and butterflies make use of fallen leaves for habitat during the winter, birds find sustenance from many of the bugs hiding in there, and even hedgehogs often curl up in a leaf pile when they hibernate.

Hedgehog seeks protection from fallen leaves
PHOTO: ADOBE STOCK / MICHAL

Despite these benefits, the survey found that 51% of respondents who rake or remove their leaves send them to the landfill, which can lead to more greenhouse gas emissions. Some respondents said that not disposing of the leaves could harm their lawns, or it was against the rules of their homeowner’s association or city.

Other findings showed that 49% of people use leaves for mulch or compost and that 43% have no concerns about leaving their leaves.

Are you thinking of avoiding the landfill this year? Click here to learn about other options and why they’re beneficial!

Teenager holds fallen leaves
PHOTO: ADOBE STOCK / TANITOST
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