Protecting Beneficial Insects By Skipping Fall And Winter Yard Cleanup

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Conventional gardening wisdom teaches us that leaving dead plants and debris on the ground in the garden gives harmful insects and diseases a place to overwinter. With organic gardening becoming more and more popular, some landscaping experts are now recommending that you leave the garden cleanup until spring in order to protect beneficial insects that will emerge in warmer weather, such as pollinators or those who prey on harmful insects.

First, Obey the Law

If your Home Owners Association or City Ordinances don't allow you to leave your cleanup until spring, by all means, don't risk violations and fines. If you are cited, explaining carefully why you are not cleaning things up may or may not work, but it's worth a try. Ask if there is any way you can leave a portion of the garden uncut, such as dried grasses and attractive seed heads that lend winter interest. If possible, leave your trimmings in a pile somewhere on the property to allow beneficial insects to continue to develop until they emerge in spring.

Where the Beneficials Hide

If you look very carefully, you will see evidence of hibernating insects, egg sacs and cocoons everywhere in and around your dead foliage. Entomological studies have found as many as 31 species of insects harboring on one type of plant.

  • Ladybugs build nests in the dead crowns of grasses.
  • Pollinating bees stay sheltered inside hollow stems.
  • Butterfly and moth chrysalides often overwinter on or close to the ground.
  • Spiders hide at the base of stems.
  • Praying mantids overwinter as eggs laid on plants.

Leave Dead Foliage as Long As You Can

It's tempting when warm weather hits to go out and clean up everything, but some beneficial insects need much warmer weather to come back to life. Even if you wait until April, up to 30 percent of beneficial insects may not have yet emerged. Leaving stems until new growth is well on its way or laying trimmed pieces carefully around the newly emerging plants will save many beneficials. It's a catch-22 situation, because some harmful insects overwinter on plants and in debris as well, but without the beneficials, they will quickly overrun your garden.

Especially in an organic garden, it is important to have as many beneficial insects as possible. Leaving those fall cleanup chores until spring will allow them to survive the winter and come forth in warm weather to keep harmful insects at bay. If you are not sure how to locate and preserve overwintering beneficial insects, call you local trusted landscaper and have him advise you on what you should and should not remove from your garden.

For help with landscape design, contact a company such as Weiler's Lawn & Landscape.