by Renate Sander-Regier

During the fall season, many of us are busy putting our gardens to bed for the winter. We often follow the gardening traditions we grew up with, as well as tips offered by countless sources of “expert” gardening advice. They encourage us to get rid of the remains of summer, clean up what’s left, remove weeds and debris, and more.

One of the main goals of fall garden clean-up is to eliminate sites where insects and disease can overwinter. It certainly makes sense for unwanted, destructive insects.

But what about beneficial insects? What about the butterflies we like to watch, and the pollinators we wish to encourage? If we shape our gardens into spaces that sustain a diversity of living organisms, chances are they will discourage problematic insects from taking over, and they will support helpful insects like pollinators.

Most butterflies and moths, in fact, spend the winter in egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, or adult form. In this part of the world, many overwinter in the cover provided by fallen leaves.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation (which provides LOTS of terrific information about pollinators) offers an interesting and informative perspective on putting gardens to bed for the winter:

Besides providing the right plants, and protecting your garden from pesticides, one of the next most valuable things you can do to support pollinators and other invertebrates is to provide them with the winter cover they need in the the form of fall leaves and standing dead plant material. Frequently however, this is the hardest pill for gardeners to swallow… [read more]

The Habitat Network is also helping pollinators – and other wildlife – by encouraging gardeners to “pledge to be a lazy gardener.” See Messy Gardening, for lots of tips and reasons to leave the leaves and debris.