COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Leaves continue to fall across the Lone Star State here in late autumn, building up around our homes and yards.

According to a press release from the Texas A&M Forest Service (TAMFS), fallen leaves have many benefits to our ecosystem when left alone. However, leaves can also become a wildfire hazard if they remain in the wrong places.

So, what should we do with fallen leaves?

The key is finding the balance between removing and leaving them around your home, TAMFS said.

Homes should be cleared of fuel buildup, or debris, from zero to five feet away. Homeowners should also decrease the fuel buildup next to wooden attachments.

“Leaves should be removed from these first five feet, usually the gutters, the garden beds that touch the home and where leaves gather up against wooden fences and wooden decks,” said Kari Hines, Texas A&M Forest Service Firewise Coordinator, in the press release. “If you choose to leave leaves in your yard, which we recommend, do so in a place that is not in one of these vulnerable locations.”

Embers are the leading cause of homes destroyed by wildfires. They can gather where leaves have fallen around your home. Removing leaves on and near your home can help reduce your risk from wildfires.

However, TAMFS says leaving leaves where they fall can also provide the most benefit to your yard, trees and overall ecosystem.

“We recommend leaving leaves where they are because it mimics the forest and a natural setting,” said Matt Weaver, Texas A&M Forest Service Urban Forester, in the press release. “If you look at the forest floor, it’s leaves. Over time, those leaves break down and become organic material and eventually the soil itself.”

This is especially important in urban settings, Weaver said.

“In urban areas, there are a lot of soil issues like compaction, and that organic material is actually really important for tree health,” said Weaver in the press release. “Most of the soil in urban areas is lacking organic materials and the only thing to help with that is mulch, which can be leaves.”

Leaves can be used as mulch to also insulate and protect the roots of trees and plants from cold weather.

“Leaves also provide food and shelter to many insects and organisms that help keep our soil healthy,” said Hines in the press release. “By leaving leaves, you are leaving the insects that are overwintering in that thermal protection layer, you’re returning organic material to your soil.”

Though leaving leaves will require some work throughout the winter to keep windblown leaves from building up around your house, the benefits they provide are invaluable.

Find the balance of leaves in your yard this season to help keep it safe from wildfires and provide environmental benefits, TAMFS said.