The garden is starting to dwindle. The other morning I woke as the sun was coming up and, I couldn’t tell for sure, but it looked as though we had a bit of frost on the north side of the lawn.
The tomato plants are turning black and there are dots of gold and red along the woodline. The tall grasses have turned brown, the sunflowers have bowed their large heads and it’s getting time to tuck in for the year.
If you’re dreading the chore of clearing out the garden for fall clean up, I have good news; especially if you want to help bees and other beneficial insects.
Natural homes for overwintering bees
You can blame it on the bees if you’re looking for an excuse to leave the dying garden be and put off the mess until spring. Beneficial insects don’t see your garden as a landscape eyesore, they see places of protection to overwinter.
- Stalks of dead grasses, and canes provide tunnels for cavity-nesting bees like mason bees and carpenter bees. These stalks provide perfect places for larvae and eggs to hibernate through the winter.
- Dense, dried plantings like the ferns from asparagus provide blockage from the wind and cold and protection against predators.
- Fallen leaves also protect insect eggs, larvae, dormant spiders, and ground burrowing insects. The leaves add a layer of warmth and overhead protection. If you want lightening bugs in your yard in the summer, leave the leaves for them. They lay their eggs under fallen deciduous leaves.
- Leave the soil un-tilled. Ground-nesting bees like bumblebees will be seeking out an underground spot to spend the winter.
- Let the last blooms be. Bumblebees will also be collecting pollen and nectar from the last of the fall flowers. The fuzzy exterior of the bumblebee allows it to keep actively foraging until the first frost. So leave late blooms like mums even, if they’re starting to wilt.
- Anyone who’s ever visited an apple orchard in the fall knows that the sugars from fallen orchard fruit also provide a great food source for native bees. If you have fruit trees, don’t worry about picking up all the apples, or if you must, gather them and move them to a different part of the yard. The bees will appreciate this sweet treat before the cold winter sets in.
- Non-migratory birds will also appreciate the dead winter garden as a place to find seeds and to seek shelter out of the wind and cold.
If you must clean, do so minimally. Cut dead plants at the ground and stack them somewhere unseen, leaving them as much in tact as possible. Insects can still use the plant to burrow in if it’s cut and moved. But try to avoid grinding, chipping, or burning the dry brush.
Things you should clear out
Be sure to remove diseased plants and do not compost them. If the compost doesn’t get hot enough, the disease can survive and re-infect your garden next year.
Also, dispose of plants that are harboring pest insects to prevent them from coming back next year as well.