The following was first published in the York Dispatch.
It's that time of the year when mornings come with frost and evenings come fast.
For many critters, that means final preparations for coming winter. For many of us, it means hours of yard work battling leaves.
Leaves are often seen as litter. To many people they look messy. So, Americans spend countless hours raking, bagging, blowing, and even burning leaves from their properties.
Leaf blowers may be convenient, low effort tools for moving a lot of leaves fast. But as with using gas-powered landscaping machines, can come at a cost beyond time and money. Blowers are noisy. They can cause hearing loss.
The exhaust also pollutes the air and contributes greenhouse gases.
Nature knows better. It knows that when leaves are left to lay on the ground, good things happen.
If you don't want to see a thick carpet of leaves in your yard you can help nature move things along by mulching fallen leaves with your lawn mower.
Fallen leaves form an organic blanket of sorts that protects roots and critters from the pending cold weather. Over time, this blanket is composted by a plethora of microorganisms that the plant roots use as source of natural fertilizer, and pollinator insects use as a food source.
This organic matter also allows more precipitation to soak into the ground, reducing nuisance flooding events and polluted stormwater runoff while recharging groundwater supplies. Scientists estimate that forest floors infiltrate 10 to 15 times more precipitation than do equivalent areas of lawn.
As it travels into the ground, pollutants in precipitation can be filtered out by the soils and broken down by microorganisms. This ground water is the source of potable water for many Pennsylvanians with wells and supplies streams with cool, clean water in the summer dry months.
Leaves also play an important role in supporting diverse and abundant life in local rivers and streams by creating something called watershed "tea." This tea is the microscopic breakdown of leaves and wood, and it's the food source for the good bugs and bacteria in a stream. These bugs support healthy populations of the economically important Eastern brook trout, the iconic Eastern hellbender, our state amphibian, and a large array of other critters.
Pennsylvania has a lot of trees and thus leaves. But we've lost a lot, especially in the places where they're most needed—alongside streams and streets. No other practice is as good at restoring stream health, cleansing the air, and providing wildlife habitat than strategically planted trees. That's why we're working with over 200 partners to plant 10 million trees for Pennsylvania.
Numerous studies have also found the being around and just looking at trees can improve our health. Trees do this by releasing chemicals called phytoncides, which help lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce stress, anxiety, and help with sleep.
So, take a break this fall. Instead of blowing them away, walk among the leaves.
As the late, great Pennsylvania conservationist Manny Gordon said, "Enjoy, enjoy!" Our health, well-being, and quality of life will be better for it.