Five wild reasons to leave the garden clean-up until spring
Once upon a time, getting the garden ready for winter meant cutting plants back to the nub, hauling off every stray leaf and grooming everything to within an inch of its life. The phrase “wildlife habitat” wasn’t much heard outside zoos and national parks.
How things change! What would once have been seen as ‘messy’ gardens are now celebrated as havens for beneficial beasties, providing vital food and shelter for British wildlife through the winter months.
Here are five excellent reasons to hang up the pruning shears and all gardening wear and shoes and leave the garden clean-up until spring...
1) To avoid disturbing solitary bee nests
Solitary bees are pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. These tiny pollinators shun the colony lifestyle of social honey bees and bumblebees, instead choosing to nest in mini-burrows, knot holes, dried bramble stems or artificial bug hotels.
Three species of British solitary bees prefer a very particular nest. Known as ‘helicophiles’ (snail-lovers!), the females root out abandoned snail shells and fill them with a chewed-up mix of nectar and pollen. A single egg is laid on top of the provisions before being barricaded within – first with a paste of leaves, then with grains of sand and tiny pebbles. The shell nest may be further camouflaged from predators and shielded from cold with a canopy of grass and mosses, glued together with her spit. All being well, come springtime, a brand new bee will emerge from the shell, ready to mate and start the process again.
These tiny pollinators choose to nest in mini-burrows, knot holes and dried plant stems
2) Dead leaves are a fantastic mulch
Why spend an arm and a leg buying in soil amendments and additives, when what nature gives us for free is perfect for the job? Sweeping a two-inch layer of dead leaves onto and around our plants will:
>> Insulate bulbs and tubers against winter frosts
>> Give extra shelter to beneficial bugs over-wintering in the top soil
>> Attract ground-feeding birds, who will go hunting through the leaf litter for caterpillars and other garden pests
>> Enrich the soil and nourish plants as the leaves break down
>> Encourage micro-organism and garden worm activity
>> Suppress weed growth
>> Reduce water runoff and soil erosion in winter rainstorms.
Dead leaf mulch is perfect for the job of conditioning the soil
3) Intact plants carry more food for birds
Put down those secateurs! If you can delay trimming back this year’s growth and let plants do their thing until next spring, you’ll be doing our feathered friends a big favour.
A varied diet of rose hips, berries and seeds will help keep your local bird population fit and healthy.
Delay trimming back this year's growth and let plants do their thing until spring
4) Hedgehogs need a quiet place to hibernate
Trip to the recycling centre with your green waste? No need! To help out hedgehogs, simply stack up a batch of logs, loppings, cuttings or prunings in a corner of the garden and leave the lot to gently rot through the winter.
Hedgehogs seek out such undisturbed spots to hibernate, to nest and for a guaranteed year-round supply of tasty insect morsels!
Stack up a batch of logs, loppings, cuttings or prunings in a quiet corner of the garden
5) Ladybirds and other useful pest predators will stick around until spring
Get a head start on next year’s sap-sucking aphids by helping ladybirds spend a cosy winter in your garden.
Soon after the temperatures drop, these ravenous pest eaters tuck themselves into dead leaves, nestle down at the base of a plant or hide under rocks. Leaving the winter garden to its own devices will help avoid dislodging or accidentally hurting these gardeners’ friends.
Get a head start on next year's aphids by sheltering ladybirds in your garden this winter