The leaves are falling and the days are gorgeous outside! You know, in the vegetable garden, its best practice to clear away all plant material to reduce risk of over-wintering fungal and bacterial diseases, correct? So clear away to your hearts content, and feel good. But, as unpopular as this may sound; some areas of our yard and lawn areas should remain messy, for a very special purpose. Pollinators and other beneficial insects need you too. Yes, it's true, I'm proposing leaving some areas outside alone for our pollinator friends.
Pollinator decline is a real phenomenon. Some species of pollinators are now on the endangered species list, many more are struggling to maintain even near the population numbers once considered normal. The great news is people all over the country are jumping in to help! From State Parks to yards across America, people are planting pollinator and butterfly gardens in large numbers. These gardens provide food for all stages of the insect's life and shelter throughout the summer.
Some butterflies such as the famous Monarch fly south for the winter. This strategy brings its own form of challenges and perils sure enough, but what about all the other butterflies and bees? How do the rest of them survive the winter?
In the hives of the European Honey Bee, males die and female workers swarm around the queen, keeping her warm. But the vast majority of the over 4,000 species of native bees in the United States lead solitary lives. Again, the males die off and the females hibernate as adults, or as larvae; depending on the species. 70% of them lay eggs and/or hibernate in small tunnels underground. Polyester (sometimes called Cellophane), Bumble, and Miner bees are just a few of these soil dwellers. Mason, Leafcutter and other bees lay eggs in hollow stems, cavities found in old logs and trees and in piles of brush.
Also according to species, butterflies have been found to over-winter in each of the four stages of their metamorphic phases- egg, larva, pupa, and even adult.
Butterflies often lay eggs or spin cocoons at the base of host plants, or in seed pods. Some adults find shelter in loose bark, dried leaves, hollow logs or in and behind wood piles.
You can see where this is going; butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects need places to hibernate over the winter. They need us to be less stringent about raking every scrap of leaf fall up, to let perennial plants stay the winter, brown and spent, and to not keep every inch we can covered in turf and mulch.
What about considering leaving just a special portion of your yard this way? What about raking leaves to a special corner, and to leave it alone until late spring? Compost piles made of leaves, grass and other organic material make great places for pollinators to find shelter. What about having a small pile of small logs in an out of the way spot to just be there? And, un-condition yourself to the notion that every piece of bare dirt needs a dressing of some sort? As with the flower gardens we are growing to help, every effort helps and matters. Or really, in this case, every non-effort matters!
For a neat chart on some butterflies that hibernate as eggs, larva, pupa or adult see here:
For more information on this or other topics, call your local Extension office, or visit us on-line at