Bees (at top) and other wildlife need human help in gardens and lawns long after pollen-gathering has ended
By Pamela Reich
Fall is the time for many of us to tidy up the yard and garden, cut back flower seed heads, and clean up those messy piles of branches and leaves. It may be habit, a matter of social conditioning, or a holdover from outdated gardening practices.
However, these traditional landscaping habits are highly destructive to our native bees, butterflies, and other beneficial creatures trying to survive winter on our properties. Although some of our insects, such as the monarch butterfly, migrate to warmer climates, most of our beneficial insects spend their entire life cycles in and around our yards.
A 2019 United Nations assessment found that up to 40 percent of all beneficial insects are in alarming decline. Habitat loss is one of the largest factors driving these losses worldwide.
As you can see, our lawn care habits greatly influence the survival of our beneficial creatures.
Leave dead flower stalks intact over winter. Birds will feed on the seed heads. Cut back stalks in the spring, leaving stem stubble at varying heights of 6 to 24 inches to provide nesting cavities. Female bees will lay their eggs with pollen balls within the stems. Old stems will be camouflaged by new growth and will naturally decay.
Leave small bare spots of soil without mulch around your yard so bees can access the soil. Opt for raking or vacuuming leaves over shredding them with the mower.
Spread raked leaves over flower beds, where they will insulate plant roots and help build the soil.
Pile leaves as mulch around trees and shrubs, on gardens and flower beds. Leaf litter has the same weed suppression and moisture retention properties as shredded wood mulch … and it’s free!
Leave a thin layer of leaves on your lawn. Although a couple of inches of leaves can kill turf, research has shown that a thin layer benefits a lawn by adding organic nutrients as the leaves decompose. Wait until the air temperature reaches 50°F to mow the leaves and to allow the successful emergence of over-wintering bees and butterflies.
Lower Frederick resident Pamela Reich serves as chair of the township Parks and Recreation Board, is a member of its Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, and also is a member of the Montgomery County Master Gardener Program. This article is re-published by The Posts from the Lower Frederick Township Newsletter with her permission.
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