Organic gardening and wildlife experts share why you shouldn't bag up your leaves. Photo by Julie Thibodeaux.

Nov. 10, 2022

While raking leaves is traditional fall chore for many, there are good reasons to forgo bagging them up and putting them on the curb.

Nationally syndicated radio host and organic gardening expert Howard Garrett of Dallas has some harsh words for leaf-baggers, calling the practice “environmental thuggery.”

“Leaves should never be raked put in bags and sent to the landfill,” Garrett stresses on his website. “All cities should outlaw the city service of picking up leaves and grass clippings." 

Garrett says when homeowners recycle their own leaves, it makes landscapes healthier, reduces water runoff and saves cities the cost of hauling them off.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension horticulturists agree. 

“During the year, at least 20 percent of the solid waste generated by Texans comes from grass clippings, tree leaves and other landscape wastes," say Texas A&M extension agents on their website. "Bagging these materials and placing them into the curbside garbage collection system uses valuable landfill space, removes nutrients from the environment, and costs cities and the people of Texas more in increased taxes and service fees.”

Instead, Texas A&M says take advantage of nature’s natural fertilizer.

“The tree leaves that accumulate in and around your landscape represent a valuable natural resource that can be used to provide a good source of organic matter and nutrients for use in your landscape." 

Leaves in gardenMOW, MULCH, COMPOST

Both Texas A&M experts and Garrett recommend a three-prong solution for leaf management: mow, mulch and compost.

Howard Garrett says the next best to mowing leaves is using them as mulch in garden beds. Photo by Julie Thibodeaux.

Garrett, aka the Dirt Doctor, says first and foremost - mow and mulch them into the turf. 

“Using a mulching mower is best but not essential. Turf can take quite a volume of leaves before there is excess. Excess leaves would be when the lawn is about to be completely covered and smothered by the ground-up leaves.”

The next best thing, he says, is to mulch them on the lawn, then rake them and distribute them in flower beds and vegetable gardens.

Then, he says, put the remaining leaves in the compost pile - but only as a last resort.


While Garrett and other horticulture experts see leaves as a rich source for yards, wildlife conservationists believe in letting the leaves lie where they fall.

Wildlife conservationists say leaves provide important wildlife habitat. Storyblock.

The National Wildlife Federation says leaves provide valuable wildlife habitat.

According to the NWF, "critters ranging from turtles and toads to birds, mammals and invertebrates rely on leaf litter for food, shelter and nesting material. Many moth and butterfly caterpillars overwinter in fallen leaves before emerging in spring."

The Xerces Society, an international nonprofit for invertebrate conservation, agrees saying the many animals that live in leaves include spiders, snails, worms, beetles, millipedes, mites, which in turn support mammals, turtles, birds and amphibians.

"Great spangled fritillary and wooly bear caterpillars tuck themselves into a pile of leaves for protection from cold weather and predators. Red-banded hairstreaks lay their eggs on fallen oak leaves, which become the first food of the caterpillars when they emerge. Luna moths and swallowtail butterflies disguise their cocoons and chrysalis as dried leaves, blending in with the real leaves," according to the Xerces website.

Here's another reason to leave the leaves alone:

“The less time you spend raking leaves, the more time you’ll have to enjoy the gorgeous fall weather and the wildlife that visits your garden,” says National Wildlife Federation naturalist David Mizejewski.


Trees plagued by mistletoe need extra love

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