If you’d ever seen how quickly our raccoon patients can devour twenty pounds of acorns or forage through six inches of fallen leaves for bugs, you’d understand exactly why there’s no need to “clean up” the gifts trees leave us in autumn!
Many native animals in our area cannot survive winter without the bounty of nuts, acorns, and other seeds falling from trees in fall. These high-fat, high-protein foods help animals like deer, raccoons, opossums, turkeys, and even bears fatten up before the annual famine, while animals like squirrels, chipmunks, and jays depend on storing enough to last the entire season. When we bag them up and send them away to be composted or burned, all of our wild neighbors miss out!
Fallen leaves are also essential for the survival of wildlife in winter. Turtles, frogs, salamanders, and beneficial insects and microbes need the warmth and shelter they provide, and scavengers and predators, in turn, need to eat these smaller critters to make it through winter.
Even branches and twigs that fall from trees are very important. Brush piles and fallen branches act as shelters for many mammals, including raccoons, turkeys, opossums, skunks, rabbits, groundhogs, quail, and songbirds. Bear in mind that— while leaving brushpiles alone is generally fine here in Southeast Tennessee—it may be unsafe in certain seasons and areas due to fire risk, so check with your local authorities to be certain.
If you must “clean up” whatever your trees are dropping this time of year, please sweep or rake them into a pile but leave them alone without burning or shredding them. You can be a savior for your local wild animals simply by letting trees do what trees do!