I feel like a lot of people spend a good amount of time in the colder months tidying up their gardens. Cleaning up the fall leaves, clipping back all the spent perennials and grasses and then putting down a thick layer of mulch seems to be common practice. Let’s try looking at the garden in a different way this winter!
By cutting down the spent grasses and perennials you really miss out on the winter interest of these plants. The winter unveils another stage in the plants beauty with its dried bronze stalks, seed heads and spent flowers. It’s definitely very different than the way the garden looks during growing season, but this is what is so beautiful about it! Winter is also a really interesting part of the plant cycle. The focus is not on the growth of the foliage or flower, it’s now saving that energy and going into dormancy. The plant will protect its self and wait for springs arrival. While all this is going on, the plant is also playing a crucial role as shelter for many pollinators. Our native solitary bees overwinter in the still standing stalks of perennials. Ground bees like bumblebees rely on leaf litter to protect and warm them throughout the winter as they gather underground. The thick layers of mulch we apply make it very hard for the bees to get underground. Soil with just a cover of leaf litter is what these little guys need. Countless insects rely on this winter landscape in order to make it to spring and once spring hits we need them to pollinate and feed our other wildlife, such as birds. It’s a delicate cycle that is being tampered with, but little changes we make can make a collective and monumental difference!
So this winter, leave your spent plants up! Let the insects make their homes in the stalks. Leave the leaves in the beds or mulch up the leaves in your yard with a mower and apply these as layer of coverage to your garden beds in place of store bought mulch. It looks great and think about the difference you’re making to native pollinators!