We’ve been having an ongoing conversation about autumn cleanup here in the pages of Beautiful Wildlife Garden, starting with Who Lives in the Leaves, a look at the large number of wildlife species who find shelter in the fallen leaves to overwinter.
This week our very own Ellen Sousa and I were featured in an article called A New Perspective on Garden Cleanup, by Kris Weatherbee in the current issue of The American Gardener, the magazine of the American Horticultural Society, and I thought it would be fun to review this topic here.
The good news is that I’m going to give you some free time as some garden chores are postponed until the spring and others are reduced. Now you can have a seat in your wildlife garden with a nice cup of tea and enjoy the migrating birds passing through your wildlife garden haven. Enjoy!
The first order of business: don’t be too tidy. Really!
Some tips for preserving wildlife habitat for winter when cleaning up the wildlife garden:
- Save the bulk of your cleanup for early spring. You will have the pleasure of watching birds pick the seeds from your flower stalks all winter long.
- Leave grasses and seedheads standing in the garden. Many butterflies and other insects spend the winter in these plant stalks. Remove them and you are throwing away next year’s beneficial insects. If you must cut your plants back now, leave the stems in your flower beds on the ground so that the insects and other wildlife that use them can complete their life cycle and emerge safely in the spring.
- Leave fallen leaves lie. Many butterfly larva overwinter in these leaves, along with spiders, and beneficial insects. Leaves also provide cover and shelter for frogs, toads, salamanders, and other wildlife. If you cannot abide the thought of leaves in your flower beds, spread them under your shrubs, or pile them in the back corner.
- Create a stick pile, or brush pile in an out of the way place in your garden. Many species will find this a welcoming place to spend the winter. Using your yard waste on site keeps a lot of mass out of landfills. Currently 25% of landfills consist of biodegradable yard waste
- Do clean out your nest boxes. Birds will seek shelter in them throughout the winter.
Some over-rated autumn garden chores:
- Leaf removal wastes a lot of energy. We expend energy raking and bagging. We consume energy by having them trucked away. We use even more energy having mulch trucked in to replace what we just removed.
- Digging up and storing tender bulbs is a huge expense of time. Why not focus instead on using native plants that are adapted to the conditions in your garden?
- Fall burning or mowing of your meadow destroys a lot of wildlife habitat. Wait until spring. Early spring bird migrants will appreciate the emerging insects to help them survive until the new growing season begins.
How do you handle your autumn cleanup chores to benefit wildlife in your garden?