A climate action evanston program

Leave the Leaves

It is the simplest first step.

More about this key action Item

most recent version posted on:
February 20, 2024
insects in leaves

Leaving leaves helps in so many ways.

  • Enrich soils with the natural fertilizer of leaves.
  • Skip synthetic fertilizers.
  • Park the lawn equipment. Save carbon and costs.
  • Advance biodiversity.  Most insects overwinter in our yards, including fireflies, ladybugs, most pollinators, and others. So don't toss them out with your leaves. Birds also rely on insects for food.

Songbirds and insects have suffered steep population declines.  

Bird populations have dropped 29% since 1970. In our lifetimes, we have experienced the decline of insects. Our windshields are now clean of insect spatter. Rusty Patched Bumblebee and Monarch butterfly populations have dropped about 90%, and many other pollinators are in decline. The Rusty-Patched is now federally listed as endangered.

Many insects live their lives in our gardens.

Ladybugs, pill bugs and others live their lives in our debris. Depending on  species, fireflies live two years in debris as larvae and fly for six weeks as adults. Many moths and other pollinators overwinter in leaves and plant stalks as eggs, larvae, or adults.

Avoid shredding or hauling away leaves and let stalks remain standing.

Rake leaves into flower beds and under trees and shrubs (leave 3 inches of space around tree trunks to avoid rot). Leave stalks and leaves in your garden to decompose into free natural fertilizer. If you must tidy, break stalks off and leave them in a dry, protected area, such as under a shrub, to let insects emerge.

Use rakes and brooms instead of leaf blowers.

Rakes are quieter for you and your neighbors, and better for the environment. Leaf blowers kill beneficial insects, pollute the air with exhaust (unless renewable energy powers an electric one), frighten birds and other wildlife, and blast into the air up to five pounds per hour of lung-damaging particles of topsoil, dust, pollen, mold, pesticides,fertilizers, and animal feces. Protect the hearing and respiratory health of yard workers and passersby and skip the leaf blower.

Luna moth cocoons are easy to confuse with leaves
Luna moth cocoons are easy to confuse with leaves

Leave the Leaves is one of the six items in the Pollinator Pledge.

Improve habitat for birds and pollinators when you Take the Pollinator Pledge.

Spread the word with a Leave the Leaves sign. ($10 donation requested)
Spread the word with a Leave the Leaves sign. ($10 donation requested)


Take our Pollinator Pledge

Six steps toward a biodiverse, sustainable yard (plus make your windows bird-friendly)

Take the Pollinator PledgeTake the Pollinator Pledge

Our Pollinator Pledge yard signs

Pollinator Pledge yard signs

Donate for a Pollinator Pledge signDonate for a Pollinator Pledge sign

Evanston Host Plant Initiative for the Rusty Patched Bumblebee

Evanston Host Plant Initiative for the Rusty Patched Bumblebee

Evanston Host Plant InitiativeEvanston Host Plant Initiative

NWF WIldlife Certification

Certify your habitat with NWF

Certify with NWFCertify with NWF

Our Eco-Friendly Yard and Garden Landscaping flyer

Our short guide to get your garden buzzing with life — attracting butterflies, bees, fireflies and birds.

Access pdf file of flyerAccess pdf file of flyer

Our Leafblower Door Hanger

NHE Leafblower Door Hanger

NHE Leafblower Door HangerNHE Leafblower Door Hanger

Our Yard Maintenance Brochure

Yard Maintenance Brochure in English and Spanish, NHE

View a pdf file of our brochureView a pdf file of our brochure

Who Lives in our Garden Debris? I want examples.

PPT showing some creatures we throw out with our debris.

See the PPTSee the PPT

Gardening that Matters PPT

NHE presentation to North Shore Senior Center tuesday club. Variations used for other groups. March 2023

Check out the PowerPointCheck out the PowerPoint

NHE - why certify as a National WIldlife Federation community habitat

NHE video presentation for Greener Glenview: why certify as a National WIldlife Federation community habitat

NHE video presentation for Greener Glenview: why NWFNHE video presentation for Greener Glenview: why NWF

Our Natural Habitat Newsletter Signup

Sign up for the NHE Newsletter

NHE Newsletter SignupNHE Newsletter Signup

Transitioning from Turf PPT

Presentation on Transitioning from Turf (Powerpoint), January 2023. Touches on the issues with turf, why native plants, why leave leaves, concerns about neonicotinoids and outdoor lighting.

Transitioning From Turf PowerpointTransitioning From Turf Powerpoint

Transitioning from Turf presentation to FLOW

Transitioning from Turf presentation to FLOW (Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed, Columbus, Ohio) lead by Leslie Shad, NHE Lead. DIscusses the issues with turf, why native plants and why leave leaves, the concern about neonicotinoids, and how to navigate outdoor lighting.

Transitioning from Turf Video PresentationTransitioning from Turf Video Presentation

Cleanup with Pollinators in Mind

Garden Cleanup with Pollinators in Mind, Evanston Roundtable, 2019

Read hereRead here

Gardening that Matters video presentation

Gardening that Matters. Get Started or Enhance your Native Garden.  March 2023 presentation to North Shore Senior Center's Tuesday Club. A simple way to take action for climate, community healthand biodiversity: Swap out your lawn for native plants.  Reconsidering theculture of lawns. Why it matters, steps to prioritize, how to get started, andhow to amplify the change. Leslie Shad of Natural Habitat Evanston presents.

See videoSee video

Do Bug Zappers Work? Yeah—About As Well As Any Other Indiscriminate Wildlife Slaughter

NY Times, June 2023. Do Bug Zappers Work?

Read the articleRead the article

Don't Mulch

Xerces Society on Mulching

Read blog postRead blog post

NY Times Why Do You Still Have Lightning Bugs? Ours Are All Gone.

New York Times ‘Why Do You Still Have Lightning Bugs? Ours Are All Gone.’ April 17, 2023 By Margaret Renkl,

Read ArticleRead Article

A Smarter Fall Cleanup

We now know that an overly aggressive approach to cleaning up in autumn can damage the environment. So what’s a responsible gardener to do?
Margaret Roach, The New York Times, A Smarter Fall Cleanup, 2020

Read hereRead here

The issues with Lawns

Freakonomics, How Stupid is our Obsession with Lawns

Freakonomics lawn transcriptFreakonomics lawn transcript

You're Needed! Here Are Some Involvement Opportunities

Donating to Climate Action Evanston and earmarking your donation for Natural Habitat Evanston. You can further earmark your donation to one of our initiatives.

Take the Pollinator and Bird Pledge

take the pledgetake the pledge

Join our Pollinator Pledge and let the city and landscapers know we care about sustainable yards. Take an optional yard sign to spread the word.

Join the Natural Habitat Evanston Newsletter


Stay updated on green goings on in Evanston, workdays, advocacy issues and more.

Buffalo Grass Anyone?

Buffalo GrassBuffalo Grass

$25/bag to local residents (pickup; no shipping). We also have some $5 seed packets of bottlebrush and little bluestem grass. While supplies last. Emails should include your phone number and which species you are requesting. Pay by check payable to Citizens’ Greener Evanston at pickup.

Volunteer at plantings and invasive removals: parks and schools

Outdoor workdaysOutdoor workdays

Help at outdoor workdays

Join No Mow May

No Mow MayNo Mow May

Rethink how you Lawn

Sign on: Northwestern students Petition for Bird-Friendly Films at Mudd Library

Sign onSign on

Northwestern students Petition for Bird-Friendly Films at Mudd Library. Mudd Library accounts for over 14% of bird deaths and injuries on campus each year. Applying patterned window film to a portion of the building would dramatically reduce collisions that are fatal to birds.

More Ways to Volunteer: Spread the word

Email usEmail us

Share out brochures, doorhangers, or flyers. Collect a bunch of materials on the 5th Ward Tree Giveaway, Pollinator Pledge, Eco landscaping, Yard care, Light pollution, Leaf blowers are an eco-disaster, or Buffalo Grass.

Join our Facebook Group

NHE FB GroupNHE FB Group

Get updates and share your thoughts on our FB Group. You can also check out our FB page here https://www.facebook.com/NaturalHabitatEvanston

More yard signs: Mowing, Leaves, Leafblowers?

2-Sided Yard Sign2-Sided Yard Sign

Just want to spread the word on certain steps? Mow Less-Leave Leaves (2-sided yard sign) or Leafblowers sign

Join the Isabella Woods Newsletter

Isabella Woods NewsletterIsabella Woods Newsletter

Get news the next time there is a threat to Isabella Woods. (Only sent when there is news.)

Certify with National Wildlife Federation

Certify now with NWFCertify now with NWF

Provide Food, Water, Shelter, Places to Raise Young and Sustainable Steps for wildlife. It helps Evanston maintain its NWF Community-wide Wildlife Habitat certification.