In recent years, eco-savvy gardeners have started cutting back on doing fall cleanup. Instead of raking up leaves in their beds and removing dead plant stems, they leave everything as is, in order to help overwintering beneficial insects. Lots of beneficial insects, including pollinators such as tiny native bees and pest-eating predators, spend the winter in hollow plant stems either as adults or pupae. Others, like ladybugs and damsel bugs, hunker down under leaf litter.
If you are one such gardener, you may be wondering when it’s okay to start your spring cleanup. You want to be sure not to remove leaves and dead plant stems too early. In early spring, many insects are still in a physiological state akin to hibernation, so doing your cleanup then will disturb them before they have a chance to emerge.
If at all possible, wait until daytime temperatures consistently reach the 50s before removing leaf litter and dead plant stems. If you want to remove dead plant stems earlier, before new growth starts, consider taking the cut stems and gathering them into small bundles of a few dozen each. Tie the bundles together and hang them on a fence or lean them against a tree. The insects sheltering inside them will emerge when they’re ready.
One more tip: Since some beneficial insects overwinter in soil burrows, make sure not to mulch too early in the spring, as doing so may block their emergence. May your garden be filled with sounds of beneficial insects a-hummin’ and a-buzzin’ this season!