Brian Jarvis Ask the Gardener
“I’ve seen quite a bit of information on social media suggesting waiting until spring instead of cleaning up your garden in the fall as a way to help insects. How does this help insects?”
There has been quite a bit of talk over the past few years about leaving plant debris in place until spring to help insects overwinter. Many gardeners face the ultimate outdoor chore. But there are good reasons to leave it alone until spring.
Many of us are familiar with monarch butterfly migration, but the majority of insects winter here, so this migratory behavior is the exception rather than the norm in the insect world.
For example, moths such as butterflies, fritillaria, luna moths, and swallowtails blend into garden leaves and dead stems and overwinter in pupae. Fireflies and native bees (including bumblebees) like to hide in leaf litter or burrow several inches under leaves to find the perfect place to make their way home until spring. . Some bees see the hollow stems of dead plants as the perfect place to spend the winter.
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Leaving the brown flowering plants out until spring yields seed heads that can be used as food by a variety of birds such as goldfinch, nuthatch, chickadee, cardinal and sparrow.
So in order to encourage these natural habitats and food sources, the first thing you need to do is postpone the urge to clean your garden until there are a few days above 50 degrees in the spring. There is no need to cut down and dispose of better seasoned flower stems. And you don’t have to rake all the leaves from your flower garden until spring.
Placing the leaves in the flower bed over the winter not only provides a home for overwintering insects, but also helps the plant retain moisture. Additionally, as they rot in the winter, they decompose, returning more organic matter and essential nutrients to the soil.
If you want to go “all out” to encourage overwintering insects, you can leave the leaves on the lawn all winter. I guess. As a compromise, you can also leave the leaves in your flower garden while you mow them into the lawn with a mulching mower. Good luck.
Call the Tulsa Master Gardeners Help Line at 918-746-3701, stop by the Diagnostic Center at 4116 E. 15th St., or email firstname.lastname@example.org for all gardening questions. can get the answer.