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Natural Awakenings Bucks and Montgomery Counties PA

Eco-Friendly Fall Yard Cleanup

Eco-Friendly Yard Cleanup

Anton MirMar/

As first frosts arrive, annual plants die back and perennials begin to go dormant. This can create a considerable amount of leaf litter and dead stalks as the once-lush garden and yard turn brown. Many people mow and rake up the debris so that the ground is neat and bare. This winter, consider allowing at least some of this fallen foliage to remain where it lands. This will benefit the local ecosystem and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in landfills. 

Offer Shelter to Beneficial Creatures

When temperatures drop, many insects live or leave eggs in fallen plant materials. By resisting the urge to tidy our yards, we can protect biodiversity and preserve beneficial bugs, such as stick insects, pill bugs and millipedes. While bumblebees hibernate underground, other bee species find their way into the hollow stems of native plants to rest and wait for spring. Certain butterflies find cozy shelter in plant litter, and some caterpillars roll themselves up in fallen leaves. Toads and salamanders lie dormant in the ground or under the protection of plant debris. 

Provide Food for Birds and Small Critters

Birds are drawn to highly textured landscapes with a diversity of plants. They feed on seed heads left standing and forage for insects among the litter. When snow piles up on fallen foliage, voles and mice scavenge through the debris for seeds and nuts. Squirrels and opossums may find edibles in the layers of mulch. The extra plant material on the ground creates habitats for more spring insects that will benefit birds, toads and other creatures when the snow melts. 

Preserve Root Systems

Perennial root systems tucked in for winter with a protective blanket of garden waste are less likely to be harmed by extreme cold temperatures. The ground is also less likely to freeze and thaw as the temperatures vary.    

Foster Healthy Soil

Take a walk through the woods in the fall. Leaves drop; plants die back; and the ground is carpeted with a rich layer of composting materials. This loamy soil in the woods is some of the healthiest to be found. In the spring, plants reappear through the layer of humus without effort. 

Unburden the Landfill

If saving the plants, insects and birds isn’t motivation enough, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that yard debris takes up as much as 6 percent of all waste in landfills, producing methane as it breaks down. If the garden or yard must be cleaned up, pile the material onsite or take it to a compost site, instead of putting it in the trash.