Caring for the Forest Floor - Don't Rake ALL the Leaves!

Something Wild

October 23, 2021

These fruiting neon orange mushrooms are an indication of the rich fungal community busy converting fallen leaves to soil.

"Something Wild" is joint production of NH Audubon, The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests & NHPR. We recommend listening to it in its original format via NHPR but a transcript of the show is also below. (Originally aired October 23, 2014)

You can hear Something Wild on-air at NHPR every other Friday at 6:45 a.m. and 8:45 a.m., or subscribe to the Apple podcast here.


Today’s topic is perfect for the fall season: cleaning up the leaves. Yes, it’s that time of year again, and if you hate raking as much as we do, we’ve got some good news for you. It really doesn’t have to be so…well…impulsive.

Imagine this, you’ve got your rake, you’re picking up all the leaves and branches and other detritus in the yard. Once you’ve done that, and the yard looks neat as a pin, you might feel the urge to continue the chore to that wooded area, just past the stone wall. The area that has been collecting all kinds of woody debris over the spring and summer months, all that junk that’s just lying there. Maybe you want to pick it all up and make a big bonfire, so it’s not there anymore. And once you start, it becomes even more tempting to go a step further. Maybe rake up all the leaves AND the pine needles. Pull up nature’s warm blanket and get rid of it, right before winter. Clean it up! And then the woods look really sweet, squeaky clean. But there’s a catch.

Red "Russula" mushrooms on the forest floor. Photo by Dave Anderson

The impulse for meticulous landscaping that extends beyond the edge of the lawn, beyond the vegetable garden and your stone wall, is actually harming the species that call the forest home. When you sweep up all that debris, you’re also sweeping up nests and dens. You’re also carting away the tiny invertebrate species that live on the forest floor. And because invertebrates are at the bottom of the food chain, this also negatively affects the living creatures further up. Not to mention the nutrients you’re raking away and the protective layer that keeps moisture in the soil.

To add insult to injury, this essential leaf litter gets bagged up and hauled off. All the forest’s hard earned savings are just given away. But, if you leave all that woody debris and those pesky fallen leaves in the forest, you’re not only helping the creatures that need it to survive, you’re also saving your back from all that raking. It’s really a win-win. Help the eco-system and get out of some of your chores. The bottom line is, while it goes against the grain of wanting to clean everything up, an unkempt forest floor is actually the most healthy and the most beautiful. Save some time this fall and let the forest at the edge of your lawn go au natural. The forest and the creatures that live there will thank you.

If you’ve got questions about the natural world, or want to share some of photos of your forest floor in its natural state. Send them our way: