Right on cue, Autumn has once again made its swift return to the Adirondacks. With it comes a list of work to ready ourselves for winter, including yard and garden cleanup. Well, we’re here to help alleviate your workload and share a “radical” concept. When prepping your yard for winter, do less!
Leaving the leaves where they fall adds nutrients back to the soil and provides great cover for insects seeking shelter from cold and snow. The leaf litter also provides an extra layer of insulation and protection for native, ground and cavity nesting bees and wasps. Some native butterflies and moths have even adapted their chrysalis to mimic the look of dead leaves and seeds. They will overwinter in the leaf litter and hatch in early spring, providing pollination services for early blooming flowers.
Letting your garden plants stand tall also benefits wildlife. While some native bees and wasps nest underground, others overwinter in trees, logs, rotting wood, and the hollow stems of plants, like purple coneflower and goldenrod. Plant stems provide shelter and hiding spaces for birds, small mammals and insects, and the seeds from dead plant heads offer nutrient-rich food for birds and small mammals. Leaving seed heads also enables your perennials to spread, and some birds even use seeds with whispy attachments, like milkweed, as nesting material.
Often the biggest barrier to doing less during fall cleanup is our desire for everything to look tidy. If you’re faced with this dilemma, consider framing in the “untidy” areas in your yard with low fencing, stone, or timbers to make your effort look more deliberate. Adding a sign noting that you are managing your space for wildlife can help inform neighbors of your relaxed approach to fall cleanup.
This Conservation Minute was written by Carolyn Koestner, the Lake Placid Land Conservany’s PLC’s Strategic Conservation Planner and GIS professional. For more information on the Conservancy’s conservation efforts, visit their website.