The other day, I wanted to cut down some grassy weeds in back. But a cricket chirping reminded me that she lived there, and I chose not to. I did, however, need to dump some woodchips over some weeds, and displaced a lot of teeny tiny moths. No idea what they are, but it doesn’t matter what they're called; they live there and I ruined their homes.
Am I saying we shouldn't do work in our yards? No, I'm saying slow down and observe the tiny lives around you, and let them influence your choices.
This past weekend, the green yards of my neighbors made me think it was time to rake, so I raked some small piles and stuffed them into a bag. I intend to use them later in compost. Later, I looked at the bag and hoverflies were hanging around the opening. I haven’t seen hoverflies in weeks, if not a month. It’s no accident that they are gathered around the discombobulated leaf pile—they probably used to live there. Maybe there were eggs in there too, and I had jumbled them all up.
If you plan to remove leaves, get them up right away. Little insects take shelter in them, others lay eggs in them, and moths bury their cocoons in them. Disturbing leaves can damage their populations. You can be the hero Gotham needs by cleaning up your leaves early and often. Or at least you can think a little more deeply about the process.
So, if you're not deranged millionaire with a bat suit, what should you do? If you have a lawn, you can mow over the leaves to grind them into soil-feeding fertilizer pieces. This definitely ruins bug habitat, but it does feed the soil. Walking through the leaves before mowing can save some bugs' lives by giving them a chance to move fly or crawl away.
Or, you can imitate a forest, where tree leaves disappear into shrubs and plants. Plant these around the trees in your yard. Hardy groundcovers can compete with established tree roots. Then you won’t have to rake or mow!
And if you live in a very rural area where no one sees your leaves—leave them! (Thick leaf mats will smother grass, though, so consider that.)
Don’t be duped like me. Don’t let your neighbors' pristine, clean, dead lawns convince you to rake your leaves up. Maybe be you can find a balance by raking the most public areas only and leaving the backyard covered. Begin to see your leaves in a new way: as a home different from yours.
Oh, and if it's unclear why I'm vehemently advocating for bugs, know that they are the basis of the food chain. If we lose insects (and we are dangerously close) Nature's Jenga tower crumbles.