KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — As the leaves begin to fall, an easy first approach is to get rid of the leaves, but there are some reasons to think twice before ‘mulching’ or throwing them away.

Mulching means shredding leaves as they fall which will provide more compost for lawns. Like burning and raking, mulching leaves is another common way to keep the yard clear of litter. The New Hampshire Extension explains that a heavy layer of leaves can smother the grass.

However, mulching the leaves can have a bigger impact than leaving them.

During the fall and winter, fallen leaves serve as a habitat for small wildlife, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These animals can include lizards, birds, frogs, turtles and insects. Many of these animals are important to help keep pests down and increase pollination, USDA states, so considering their habitat first may mean a pleasant environment long term.

Some notable animals that use the leaf litter for cover over the winter include butterflies, moths, bumblebees, snails, worms, beetles, millipedes, spiders and mites, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

While some of those creatures might make some people’s skin crawl, some help with pollination and others are eaten by outdoor animals.

If leaving the leaves where they lie is not possible, the USDA, the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation, and the University of Tennessee’s Horticulture Department agree that an excellent option is to use the leaves as mulch.

The heavy coverage will help to regulate the temperature and moisture of the soil while blocking grass and weeds from getting out of control. Mulch can also help with soil health, as the breakdown of organic material will provide nutrients for the soil, and help with erosion control, according to TDEC.

Even with using leaves for mulch, some may still opt to process them. While this may reduce the habitat available for small animals, it will still serve a great purpose for the mulched areas.

Another great option from TDEC and USDA is to use the leaves for composting.