There was a time when fall meant every leaf in the yard was raked. Every shred of dead plant material was cut down and hauled off. The yard was clean and devoid of life. It was ready for winter.
But times are changing. More and more, with native plant gardeners leading the charge, the yard and garden are seen as havens that support pollinators and other inhabitants. And a gardener’s actions can either enhance or inhibit those lives.
Bees hibernate in various ways in the garden. They may overwinter under bark, in a rock crevice or in a burrow.
Queen bumblebees create underground burrows. Piling mulch on the ground in fall prohibits the queen from building her nest.
Leafcutter bees, mason bees and yellow-faced bees will nest in the hollow stems of many native plants. Leave those standing over the winter.
Declining butterfly populations are one of the best reasons not to clean up the garden. Swallowtails, the cabbage whites and the sulphurs form chrysalis in late summer and use dead plants’ leaves and stalks for hibernation. When we cut down and clean up the garden, we remove overwintering sites for them.
Native ladybugs enter hibernation after the temperatures drop. They spend the winter under a pile of leaves or hidden under a rock.
Ladybugs are known pest-eaters. Each one consumes dozens of soft-bodied pest insects and insect eggs every day.
What are other predatory insects? Assassin bugs, lacewings, damsel bugs and ground beetles hibernate as adults, eggs or pupae. Predatory insects help control and maintain a balanced insect population. If you have a vegetable garden, they are your friends.
A yard scraped clean and bare gives birds good reason to fly by your yard. A highly textured landscape signals a diversity of plants and better opportunity for food. The spent plants offer a screen and a safe place for birds to forage. And the seedheads offer food in the fall and winter.
The spent plants, and the snow they gather, add a layer of insulation to protect the plant root from harsh winter winds and sub-zero temps.
If you want to support life in your garden, leave your natives standing. Instead of pruning, raking and scrubbing it, think about the critters living there and depending upon those plants.
Next spring, when we all emerge from our winter hibernations, we can greet the garden with even more anticipation for the life that is harbored there.
Robin Lynn Friedman is the Master Gardener coordinator for the Hall County Extension Office. She can be reached at email@example.com or 770-535-8293.