A naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation advises New Jersey homeowners to "park the rake" this fall and leave the leaves where they are.

David Mizejewski says as an alternative to raking up the leaves and hauling them away, you can try raking them into garden beds, where they'll serve as a natural mulch.

"As these leaves break down, they put their nutrients back into the soil," he says.

"The idea of mulch is really kind of mimicking mother nature's natural mulch, which is the fallen leaves. And mulch, of course, is something that people put out in their yards and their garden to help squelch weeds from growing, to retain soil moisture for your plants, and that kind of thing. It is kind of crazy, if you think about it. We rake up the leaves every fall and get rid of them. And then we go to the garden center and we pay money to buy mulch to put out in our yards."

He says the leaves also can serve as an attraction for the natural world, attracting cool birds, butterflies and small wildlife.

"So many wildlife species actually live in that leaf layer, like they would, say in a forestry system. Lots of different types of insects, including some butterflies and moths, really cool critters, like toads and salamanders, and even song birds actually forage in that leaf layer as a way of getting some of their primary food source."

Mizejewski adds, "I would much rather spend my weekend outside enjoying the great weather, rather than sitting there, raking or mowing."

He says you can also replace lawns with beds, trees and shrubs.

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5.

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