Owl Pellet: Leaftopia is Your Own Backyard and Front Yard Too

Three mother maple trees (left side) near Merriam Barn, College Pond.

Ah, autumn with its brightly-dressed trees, delicious earthy scents, and crisp air. What a weekend, am I right? It is the season when I am least likely to get anything actually done because I can’t stop walking the trails, the roads, the meadows, the sidewalks. Katie Puppy, WFTA K9 ranger, is always in the back seat, her head out the window, suggesting places for us to stop which is basically everywhere.

Katie Puppy in autumn, surprisingly human-like

So what’s my point? Note that I did not say I am fond of the sounds of autumn because I am not. Though evening sounds are as nice as ever– and a Great Horned Owl call woke me up last night–the day sounds now are of lawn service companies blowing every last leaf off of perfect green lawns. And with them, the queen bees, the caterpillars, and the acorns that feed a plethora of wildlife. I am absolutely certain that in 20 years, we shall look back on leaf-blowing as one of the silliest things ever along with ascots and donkeyball. We cause our own problems, that much is clear.

And before getting yourself all riled up about private property and your right to blow up your own lawn or trees or whatever, I am not proposing a by-law or restriction. I am simply asking us all to do better. I realize that my style of lawn care (no pesticides ever, a safe zone for clover and dandelions, leaftopia) is not for all. I still mow the lawn myself with an electric mower. I grew up mowing the lawn and I love doing it because I think about life as I walk back and forth, and no one bugs me, and I watch as the tiny frogs and toads bound out of the way, and it makes me happy. Not everyone is so delighted; I get that.

So much beauty at your feet. Nolte Town Forest.

There will soon come a moment when the three mother trees on my property (there is a fourth, a huge white pine which obviously is not deciduous), two red oaks and a white oak will drop their leaves, seemingly all at once. And these don’t get mowed in, but rather piled at their bases in an expanding ring of caterpillar joy. If you want to see how I feel about oaks, please read this past Owl. I love them.

So what’s my point? Consider doing things a little differently. Or sending me hate mail. You choose.

The most recent edition of explore, the Mass Audubon quarterly magazine sums it all up pretty well and with nice photos. Are you a member? You should be. Here, with all credit to them is how to “Skip the Autumn Cleanup.” Or at the very least, leave some leaf litter around the yard:

  1. Young queen bees survive the winter in the ground under leaf litter until spring, when they will emerge to start new hives. To help bees, leave the deep leaf litter around the bases of trees, shrubs, and perennial gardens. Snuggle up, queens, and have a snooze.
  2. When you throw away leaves, you’re actually throwing away insect larvae and eggs. Most butterfly and moth species do not migrate but rather overwinter in leaf litter. Who knows the woolly bear with its brown and black stripes which “predict” winter’s strength? Fuzzy wuzzies, as they were known to me, actually hide between old plant stems, flowers, grass,, and leaves until spring. Some butterflies overwinter in their adult butterfly forms in sheltered places like under bark or in a woodpile. They do not love being blown out of their hiding spots.
  3. Birds rule. Not only are those dopes the Bue Jays taking away acorns from oaks in places they soon forget (up to 5000 of them) and bringing about new oaks, but they’re not the only ones eating up acorns. Squirrels, chipmunks, wild turkeys, wood ducks, and American crows all eat them. So leave the acorns, and then leave the twigs and plant fibers too– American robins use them to build their spring nests.

You can mow in leaves (which I do until the big oaks overwhelm the mower) and leave a large swath of untouched leaf litter around the trunks of trees. Caterpillars drop directly down and hide. Try to stop your spring cleanup until mid-April or until the temperature is consistently over 50 degrees when the native insects start to move about and leave their winter shelters.

When the big oaks let go their leaves. And cover the dog. Haifa, 2015, RIP.

Think about our insects and birds and butterflies. And our own ears. Right now, at 7:25 am on a Monday, I can hear those leaf blowers going.

If you read all this and still don’t care, know that the Weston Brush Dump is open now on Saturdays for the next seven weeks. You can read more here.



  • Isabella Jancourtz

    Thanks for this great article, Kristin. I’ve been doing the same thing around here since 1975 when we moved in, and I still use a rake and an electric mower. It’s all great exercise, lots of sunshine and fresh air, just total therapy for body and soul.
    As for the animals, I can hear the coyotes enjoying the food scraps I leave them on my “compost pile” and the night owls hoot at each other over great distances. When snow covers the ground, birdseed draws beautiful birds from all over. And a blazing campfire is magic any time of year.
    How lucky we are to live in the natural world, yet also be so close to the great historic and cultural centers of Boston, Cambridge and Concord.

  • Thank you for writing this! More wildness – less lawn!

  • I am pretty sure we don’t live near each other but what a surprise to read your blog this morning, having been so excited to hear my owl last night for the first time this year. He must have been quite busy hopping around the woods of Weston.

  • Do you push or sit on your electric grass cutter? Do you have a favorite model?
    Should I simply leave the leaves on the grass (which we never fertilize) or should I continue to blow them off the grass into our woods?

    • I have a push mower that has assisted motion so to speak. As in I press a lever and just walk behind it. It’s an EGO but will have to check the model. I usually mow in leaves on the grass when there are still few, except under the big oaks which I let have a huge “skirt” of downed leaves. I rake up the rest and deposit in woods when they get too deep.

  • And if you don’t care about the insects and the birds that need the leaf litter, Consumer Reports did a study a while ago and found that mowing the leaves in place resulted in a healthier looking lawn the next summer.

  • I found this issue informative, not that it wasn’t obvious (insect and other animal life sacrificed to the leaf blowers), but it means that those awful noisy leaf blowers aren’t just noisy, they are noxious to a good part of “life” in our yards. Other communities have limited HOURS during which this nasty activity is permitted, protecting sleep and other values. I thought it was sad, but not surprising, to come across a property with TWO leaf blowers going on at once, as if one alone isn’t enough nuisance to the neighborhood. Of course that means only HALF as much time subjected to that noise, but the same or greater extend of damage to the animal life .

    Let’s hope that the information you provided will make people take notice and revise their lawn management policy!

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