Fall garden clean up with pollinators and other wildlife in mind. Gold finch feeding on purple coneflower seeds

As the days get shorter and cooler, the gardening season starts to wind down, and many of us will begin cleaning up our landscapes for the winter. While cutting back dead plants and raking leaves can make for a clean-looking yard, it may not be the best thing for pollinators and other wildlife that inhabit our landscapes. So, how should we approach garden clean-up in the fall?

Jumping worm

How full is your invasive species radar? All I can say is my view is overwhelmed. Dealing with the current group of Japanese beetles, emerald ash borer, bush honeysuckle, and so many more. Plus, in Illinois, we are girding for the impending arrival of the very destructive spotted lanternfly. Then a notification arrives the USDA has prohibited the import of boxwood, holly, and Euonymus species from Canada to prevent the spread of the box tree moth (Cydalima perspectalis). I didn’t even look that one up to see what it does, but I bet it’s not good.

chickadee at a feeder

People love to feed birds. Aside from gardening, it is considered one of the most popular hobbies around the globe. And even some would argue, feeding the birds is a part of gardening. In the winter months, many find joy in watching a flurry of feathered friends, feeding at the feeder. The bird food we set out helps to give those birds that stick around Illinois over the winter an energy boost to keep their body temperatures up on these cold days.

Bald Eagle

As a kid, I remember the bald eagle being rare and revered. At school and on TV we learned the bald eagle was an endangered species. The resounding theme when I was young was that bald eagles were noble hunters, flying skyward and swooping down to grasp fish from an icy lake. In movies bald eagles had a piercing call, it sounded like a mighty high-pitched screech. I’m not sure how to convey this sound through text, but hopefully, you remember the sound clip that played every time you saw an eagle onscreen in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

orange and black monarch butterfly perched on milkweed plant

There is something about mowing that is so satisfying.

What is it? The smell of cut grass? Taming an unruly landscape?

To me, it is measurable progress. It seems so often that modern jobs give few tangible results. So much of our work is in the digital ether. After a full day's work, I leave the office switching off my computer, and all my toiling vanishes with the click of a mouse.

After an exceptionally mild winter, I noted my first robin sighting about three weeks ago, a sure sign of spring. Sipping on my coffee, I watched as wave after wave of robins hopped through the yard, stopping to cock their head, as if listening for worms in the soil below. Scratching and digging through my leaf mulch, these red-breasted thrushes, found a protein-rich feast.

Ophiophobia: the fear of snakes. 

Seeing a snake stops me in my tracks, leaves my heart pounding and scarcely breathing while my eyes are fixed on the reptile. Being someone who has made a living working outside much of my life, snakes are not a rare thing in my day-to-day activities, but I still prefer to avoid them.