Provide valuable winter habitat for wildlife, including birds, bees and insects.
Native bees need a place to spend the winter and for these important pollinators, a winter home
can be as cozy as being tucked inside the hollow stem of a bee balm plant. The eggs and larvae of bees also overwinter in burrows in the ground and if we cut everything down and remove every last leaf, we are not helping these important pollinators.
Insect eating birds like towhees, sparrows, chickadees, wrens, juncos and nuthatches are always welcome in the garden because they consume large quantities of caterpillars and other pesty insects when they are raising their young in the spring and summer months. By leaving the leaves and winter garden intact, they can feed off the hibernating insects in leaf litter and on tree and plant stems.
Many butterfly species overwinter as adults nestled into tree bark or in leaf litter awaiting the longer days and warmth of spring. Butterflies that overwinter in a chrysalis include swallowtails and cabbage whites. These chrysalises hang from dead plant stems or are tucked into the soil or leaf litter. Declining butterfly populations are one of the best reasons not to clean up the garden in the fall.
Native ladybugs spend the winter outside and begin to enter hibernation soon after the temperature begins to drop. Piles of leaves are one of the places they congregate and you will be helping these important pest eaters get a jump start in the spring.
Instead of doing a big fall clean-up, as much as your sense of neatness will allow, try waiting until April. By then, the longer days and warming temperatures mean these little critters are waking up from their long winter nap.