From the Left



My Garden Is Still a Mess, and Yours Should Be Too

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp on

I still have dry flower stalks and leaf litter across my yard. The weather is warming with the start of spring and it has me itching to get out in the garden. I've watched as some of my neighbors raked and bagged leftover leaves, but I'm resisting. I might be ready, but the Earth is not.

If I started cleaning up now, I'd disturb the ecosystem at work. Bees, butterflies and other pollinators ride out the winter in dead plant material. So, please, put down your rake! Enjoy these gorgeous spring days with a walk instead. You worked hard on your garden, you've done the good work and you'll work hard again, but for now, especially if your aim is to help pollinators, leave it be!

The weather should be consistently above 50 degrees before you tackle that spring cleanup. We all know that it's important to help the bees. People like to focus on honeybees and bumblebees because of their role in pollinating our food. But there are 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. So do butterflies. Monarch butterflies may travel to 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 a caterpillar wedged into a piece 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 huddle together, while assassin bugs and lacewings tuck in beneath leaves and debris.

All of that tidying you want to do is purely aesthetic. Resist the urge for a little longer. Leave your garden be and you'll have scores of beneficial bees, bugs and butterflies emerge for you to enjoy and for your garden to benefit from all summer long.


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