5 Steps to Spring Clean A Garden that Gives Back (and it’s less work!)

Gardens that feed pollinators and support our ecosystems are gardens that are full of life – plants and many other overwintering butterflies and other pollinators.  And so, how we clean those gardens in the spring plays an important role in how they function as gardens that give back to our local ecosystems.  Here are 5 Tips to follow that will also be less work (yay!).

spring azure butterfly at Lacewing Plants nursery
  1. Relax the Tidy! If you’re building a garden to attract pollinators and support your local ecosystem, resist the temptation to cut down all the stems and clean up all the leaves in the fall.  And then, when spring finally comes…..wait! Wait until nighttime temperatures are reliably 10 degrees Celsius before cleaning everything up in the spring. This can be difficult….especially if you don’t like the look of your garden in spring.  But designing your garden with the right plants that have interesting stems and grouping them together can help.  This material is important habitat for the bees and butterflies that are living in your garden. So, choose your native plants wisely to create an interesting winter (and spring!) display of stems that adds beauty to your yard!
oak leaves on the ground in spring
  1. Use the leaves! Do you have leaves on your lawn and garden? Don’t get rid of them! They hold very valuable nutrients for your soil.  Once the weather is warm enough that you won’t disturb hibernating pollinators, rake the leaves onto your garden as mulch – you can shred the leaves once they are dry by running over them with a lawnmower. Do you have too many leaves?  Add them to your compost or hedgerow or use them to mulch around some of your backyard trees.
butterfly milkweed sprouting in early spring
    1. Replenish your mulch. Do you have areas where the mulch has decomposed into the soil? Fantastic! that is great for the garden. Add more mulch in the spring in areas where it is thin. Watch that you don’t bury plants that are emerging. And don’t forget to leave a few patches of bare soil for ground dwelling native pollinators!
      1. Leave a few stems. Did you know that if you leave a few inches of last year’s stems in the garden that solitary bees like Mason Bees and Small Carpenter Bees will use them as cavity nests?  And your plants will grow up around them so they won’t look out of place.  Try leaving a few and see how it goes!
      snow on coneflower head
      1. Chop and Drop. Once you’ve trimmed back last year’s growth, drop it where you cut it.  It will blend in with the mulch and soil and you can break it into smaller pieces if that looks better to you. If the stems are too big or too stiff to cut, you can put them into your compost, but they hold excellent organic matter that will feed your soil organisms, so keeping them in the garden is always best if you can.
      Toad camouflaged in the garden at Lacewing Plants nursery


      Without having to bag up leaves and rake everything away, you may find that you have more time for things you’d rather be doing like watching your native perennials returning!


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