One of the most valuable things you can do to support pollinators and other invertebrates is to provide them with the winter cover they need.
It may be habitual, a matter of social conditioning, or a holdover of outdated gardening practices from yesteryear—but for whatever reason, we just can’t seem to help ourselves from wanting to tidy up the garden at the end of the season—raking, mowing, and blowing away a bit of nature that is essential to the survival of native bees, moths, butterflies and dozens of other species.
Plenty of beneficial pollinators overwinter in gardens, using plants and debris that are left behind to survive. If you have a pollinator garden or have a garden filled with native flowering species that help pollinators during the summer and fall, leave them standing to provide cover through the winter.
Many native solitary bees spend the winter by nesting in the dry hollow stems of dormant plants. Others overwinter by burrowing into the ground or small holes in wood or make use of man-made bee hotels. Various species of butterflies and moths survive winter by hiding under garden debris such as dried leaves and twigs.
- Leave the leaves where they fall. Leaf litter provides habitat, insulation, and protection for insect pollinators. It’s also a natural fertilizer for grass as leaves break down during the winter.
- If you can’t leave all the leaves, rake lightly without disturbing the soil. Avoiding soil disturbance or rough handling of leaves will ensure that any hibernating insects stay buried and any butterflies or larvae sheltering under leaves are not killed.
- Pile leaves over garden beds, around trees and shrubs, or in the corner of the yard. Keeping leaves intact will still provide pollinators like butterflies with shelter and overwintering sites.
- Keep the leaves where they are until the weather warms and any pollinators using the leaves have emerged to start foraging. Bonus: leaves serve as natural mulch for your garden, so you can save pollinators AND money!
- Explain to your neighbors how leaving the leaves is an easy way to do your part in pollinator conservation—maybe they will want to join you!
Wait until April to rid your flower beds of wilted plants and debris. The pollinators that live there will thank you by ridding your garden of pests and ensuring beautiful blooms in the spring.