Fall Rainscaping – Leave the Leaves

It’s that time of year again! Your lawn is soon to be blanketed with a bed of fallen leaves. Before you rake them up, have you ever considered leaving the leaves? There are actually many reasons to leave them be. Here’s just a few!

You may want to leave the leaves on your lawn because many animals rely on leaf cover to provide habitat during the fall and winter months. Think of the leaves as a nice warm home for lots of important insects and invertebrates. Even butterflies and moths winter in ground cover. Maybe you don’t love bugs, but many beautiful birds rely on those very creepy-crawly critters for food. When we remove the leaf cover, birds lose that food source – we’ve basically gotten rid of their grocery store.

Also, leaves are pretty much free mulch! They provide nutrients for your lawn, and some ground cover that can suppress weeds. If you don’t want to leave the leaves all over your lawn, you can rake them to a specific spot to use like mulch, or behind your house where they’re less visible, but still providing important ecosystem support.

Finally, did you know that yard waste, including fallen leaves, can also be a stormwater pollutant? If your local government policy is to rake loose leaves along the curb and it rains before someone comes to pick up them up, they can get washed into the nearby storm drains. This can clog storm drain systems and lead to flooding events which can also cause erosion. If the leaves make it out to local streams, the influx of decaying organic material can contribute to a spike in nutrients in the waterway. Though this may seem beneficial, it can throw the delicate ecosystem balance out of whack, contributing to algae blooms that can harm small aquatic organisms.

This year, try leaving the leaves*! For ourselves, birds, bugs, and the chance to see the beauty of nature’s ability to renew and recycle.

*If you live in an area with policies that require you to rake your leaves, look up your local government’s yard waste preference of how to bag/bin/collect these leaves for pickup, and try to keep them out of the storm drain!

For more reasons to leave the leaves, check out the New Hope Audubon Society or the National Wildlife Federation!

What is a Watershed?

A watershed is an area of land where all water drains to a particular waterbody, usually a stream, river, or the ocean. Watersheds cover the entire land surface of the earth. Watersheds contain homes, neighborhoods, cities, forests, farmland, and more. Watersheds come in all shapes and sizes and can even cross state lines.

The graphic above shows how water travels over a landscape and eventually forms streams and rivers. In a natural environment, this water would be pretty clean; however, when rain hits an impervious surface it creates stormwater runoff, which picks up pollutants and enters the nearest creek or stream. This creek or stream will join others to form larger streams, which join others to flow into larger rivers. Just like streams, smaller watersheds join together to form larger watersheds. That means any pollution that enters our stormwater can transported throughout an entire watershed.

All of us live in a watershed – let’s keep them clean! Use this EPA tool to Surf Your Watershed and find out more about how stormwater, runoff, and streams connect to form watersheds in your area.

How Natural Vegetation Creates Stream Buffers to Protect Waterbodies from Stormwater Pollution (and how you can help build one!)

What is a stream buffer?Image result for riparian buffer

Stream (also called riparian) buffers are strips of trees and other vegetation that:

  • improve water quality by filtering pollutants from stormwater runoff such as oil, fertilizers, pesticides, and dog waste;
  • reduce flooding and erosion by stabilizing stream banks;
  • moderate stream temperature and sunlight, keeping fish and other aquatic life healthy;
  • provide nesting and foraging habitat for many species of birds and animals.

You can help stream buffers purify our water by planting native trees and bushes along your stream or ditch, especially if the bank is bare or eroding. If you already have trees or shrubs along your waterway, simply leave it alone!

Mowing, cutting, and removing buffer vegetation may be regulated in your area, so check with your local government before undertaking landscaping or other projects within 100 feet of any water conveyances. (Selective cutting of understory shrubs and scrub by hand is usually allowed in very small amounts, but it is better to let the vegetation continue its natural regeneration process, which will allow trees to mature, form a canopy, and prevent undergrowth naturally.) Continue reading