Leave Your Garden Messy
By: Richard D. Gainar, CEBS – Lake Management Committee
I’ll bet you’re the kind of gardener who cuts down all old plant stalks, rakes up every frost-burned leaf,and makes your garden bed tidy each fall. No? Well if you are there are good reasons to change your garden maintenance schedule and wait until spring to spruce things up.
Trees, ground cover, butterflies, birds, and other creatures that enjoy our gardens all summer need us to work on a four-season schedule. If we make things too neat, we eliminate much of the food and shelter our plantings could provide in winter, when some creatures need them most.
Summer’s flowers shrivel into seed heads that feed gold finches, chickadees, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, and sparrows in the cold weather while stalks and grasses provide havens for beneficial insects in hibernation. Decomposing plants and leafs fertilize the ground for next season’s plantings and prevents oil run-off. In addition, dried flower heads and stalks poking out of the snow make for a pleasing site adding color and structure to the landscape.
A single bee balm head holds between 80 to 110 energy-packed seeds for backyard birds. Other plants, such as goldenrod, aster, and coneflower also produce abundant seeds. Annuals such as zinnias and black-eyed Susan’s, too, are a “feast on a stick” for birds. Many kinds of native bees, such as bumble-bees, mason bees, and leaf-cutter bees, overwinter in the garden clutter. Many butterfly species benefit from the not-too-neat approach, some overwintering in piles of leaves, other in natural cavities. Leaves hold butterfly chrysalises and beneficial bugs such assassin bugs and ladybugs which need layers of leaf litter to survive the cold.
“Leave your garden messy” is the new mantra for gardeners who take the year-round prospective. There’ll be time enough in the spring to do the cutting and clearing that make way for spring and summer blooms. In fact, the messier the garden in winter,the more wild things we’ll see next year.
As always, Love the Lake and Be Lake Responsible.