Saying goodbye to autumn – please keep those fallen leaves!

Autumn Yellows. Photo by Maria de Bruyn.


By Maria de Bruyn

The morning temperatures this past week have indicated that winter really is arriving, and we’re saying goodbye to autumn. It’s been a very beautiful season with vibrant yellow, orange and red hues.

The trees in the nature reserves, parks and neighborhoods have shown us sunny yellow and amber colors. Some of our autumn butterflies, like the larger cloudless suphurs and smaller skippers, have been gracing our later blooming flowers.

The maples, sycamores, sweetgum trees, and vines like Virginia creepers, have shown us wonderful orange and red leaves. If you keep an eye on the grasses and drying plant life, you might be lucky enough to spot some moving insects like the brightly colored red-headed meadow katydid and the handsome meadow katydid with blue eyes. We may even see some late dragonflies, like the ruby-red autumn meadowhawks.

Autumn Reds. Photo by Maria de Bruyn.

Another sign that autumn is ending is obvious in many neighborhoods — very large piles of raked leaves along curbs and at street sides. Some people may find yards and lawns “littered” with dried leaves ugly, so they want to get rid of an eyesore. With time and appreciation for nature, however, we can learn to find the fallen leaves beautiful and useful.

If you prefer “tidy” piles of leaves and pine needles, you can rake them into rings around shrubs and trees, where they will eventually break down and supply you with mulch – free of charge. The leaves covering your yard will also supply wildlife with a place to overwinter and get ready for spring.

This is particularly the case for insects, on which many birds still rely for their winter diets. Insect larvae, including butterflies and moths, survive the cold months in the leaf litter. Other animals, such as frogs and salamanders, also benefit.

Many organizations are now encouraging people to keep their leaves. You can read more about how beneficial they can be – both for you and wildlife – here:

Maria de Bruyn participates in several nature-oriented citizen science projects, volunteers at Mason Farm Biological Reserve and the Orange County Senior Center, leads a nature-themed virtual book club, and writes a blog focusing on wildlife at

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2 Comments on "Saying goodbye to autumn – please keep those fallen leaves!"

  1. Barbara Driscoll | December 7, 2020 at 8:55 am | Reply

    Thank you for your article on leaving the leaves. I’ve petitioned the town of Chapel Hill to stop the loose leaf pick up program which picks up all the leaves from Oct-Feb, over 4000 tons of leaves! Such a waste to remove the leaves – great for nature, reduces water runoff from yards and benefits most insects and wildlife. Leaves are not waste.

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