From the Left



Prepare Your Garden for Winter by Leaving It Alone

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp on

It's tempting to want to tidy up your garden now that blossoms are starting to fade. Dry flower stalks and leaf litter look unsightly, so why not prepare the bed for winter's blanket of snow?

We see the city's reminders for yard waste pickup and think it's time to hack it all to the ground, scoop it into a bag and place it curbside alongside last week's trash. The city will compost it elsewhere and return it back to the earth in a way that helps the rest of town maintain its curb appeal.

What if I told you there was a better way? Enjoy these crisp fall days; abandon the yard work; and take a walk instead. Being a lazy fall gardener is actually better for the environment. Every time you put your hands in the mix, you're disturbing the ecosystem you've worked hard to support all summer long. Especially if your aim is to help pollinators.

We all know that it's important to help the bees. People tend to focus on honeybees and bumblebees because of their role in pollinating our food. But there's more than 4,000 species of native bees in North America, and according to the Xerces Society (named for an extinct butterfly), "70% of all bee species nest in the ground -- frequently in yards and garden beds."

Some bees nest in leaf litter (stop raking!), some underground and still others inside the stalks of woody plants. But bees are not the only pollinators that rely on your unkempt garden for winter cover. Monarch butterflies may be famous for overwintering in California and Mexico, but so many other butterfly species hibernate locally and rely on good places to wait out winter. Most butterfly species overwinter in the chrysalis stage hanging from plant stems, while many others overwinter as caterpillars wedged into pieces of bark or tucked under leaves. Some may even roll themselves up in a leaf like a burrito. A few caterpillar species even overwinter as adults seeking protection in rock crevices and other sturdy structures.


Ladybugs overwinter in large groups huddled together, while other beneficial garden bugs like assassin bugs and lacewings overwinter under leaves and debris or in the pupa stage hanging from dried plants. The birds will also thank you. All of those dried seeds and insect larvae to munch on will help get them through the hard winter.

If you plant a garden with the intention of helping pollinators, then put down your rake and put away those pruners. All of that tidying is purely aesthetic. Leave your garden be and you'll have scores of beneficial bees, bugs and butterflies come spring. When the garden does come to life in spring, you can come to life with it, rolling up your sleeves, putting on those garden gloves and nurturing those native perennials. If you take care of beneficial bugs and bees during the winter, they will return the favor and care for your garden all summer long.


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