Should I rake my lawn, or should I watch a movie? Put that way, the choice seems clear. Why would anyone want to rake? While there are some great reasons to rake, there are also some reasons to limit raking. Which is right? Read on…
Beautiful fall color leads to the other fall, falling leaves. Traditionally most folks have raked and removed those leaves. Composting them creates a nearly magical addition to any soil. But I am seeing much more press exposure given to the 'let sleeping leaves lie' way of thinking. Recently the Worcester Telegram published an article: Tired of raking and bagging leaves? Be eco-friendly instead and don't. The thinking is that the fallen leaves are very natural, and lawns are very unnatural. Many feel the leaves should win out over the lawns. Nearly every time humans alter the natural world, we make it worse.
A range of creatures depend on the leaves for food, shelter, and protection. By removing them we are further disrupting the natural balance. Why should we care. Bugs are not cute or cuddly. They are at best aggravating and inconvenient. But as a piece of the what-eats-what food web, so many creatures that are cute and cuddly depend on insects for their existence. Some directly, some indirectly. One creature that depends on insects is humans. Humans have evolved with an inconvenient need to eat. Much of what we eat depends on an insect for pollination. No insects means much less food. There is a thought-provoking NPR interview with the author of The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World. Here is a link to the audio. There are several places where the author uses some creative interpretations of science to make his point. He is trained as a writer, not as a scientist. But the overall tenor of the piece is quite good. It's worth a listen.
Anyone over the age of about 60 will likely remember that many bugs took their last flight into the windshield of the family station wagon in the 1950s to 1970s. Those under 30 may not have an appreciation of how prevalent the bug versus car collisions used to be. Sometimes called 'The Splat Factor', this decrease is fairly extreme, over 50% in some cases. Lots of specifics come into play, including automotive aerodynamics and average speed of travel. But even when those are corrected for by driving a 1960s boxy Ford car at 40 mph, the number of splats is far less now. Insect sampling conducted since 1989 seems to suggest that insect numbers have decreased by over 75% since then.
Does all this mean you will drive humankind into extinction if you rake your leaves? Of course not! But since a great many of nature's tiny creatures do live in the leaf litter, maybe a compromise is in order. It need not be all or nothing. Possibly rake the leaves off of key visual areas of your lawn, or maybe even all of your lawn. But leave them in some, or all, of your mulched beds, at least for a while. Whatever you choose to do is obviously up to you. There is no absolute right or wrong answer. My job is simply to present information you may not be fully aware of.