By Anica James, Master Gardener in Training
Spring is finally here, a time for new beginnings. The days are getting longer, birds are singing their hearts out and the snow has melted for the most part, but it’s still too soon to do any kind of clean up in your yard. It may be tempting to get out the rake or leaf blower just because it’s sunny and leaf bags are on sale at your local box store, but we need to hold off just yet for the sake of helping other creatures and pollinator species who are still asleep.
Although we are all anxiously waking up from our own personal winter hibernation–whether it be mental or physical–many creatures around us are still sound asleep in the leaf litter or below the mulch and we should not disturb them just yet. When you clean up your yard too soon, all for the sake of aesthetics or curb appeal, you are essentially removing all of the beneficial insects in your vicinity, like those responsible for making your flowers bloom or for your fruit and vegetable plants to produce food.
Some beneficial pollinators overwinter in the hollow stalks of perennials and under rocks. Examples of insects local to us that are still in diapause state are butterflies (like Mourning Cloaks or Question Marks), lacewings, ladybugs, mason bees and parasitic wasps, which all spend the winter either as pupae or adults hidden away in your yard. Even Luna moths and black swallowtails spend the winter months in cocoons or pupa that look just like a crumpled brown leaf, so be on the lookout for those.
It is best to wait until the temperature is consistently 10 degrees Celsius before you start raking leaves, turning soil, or using a leaf blower. Personally, I like to play it safe with the 10 For 10 rule: 10 degrees for 10 days. This allows nature to take its course and it allows me to have enough time to observe my property and familiarize myself with the various kinds of flora and fauna that emerge post-winter.
If you do decide you feel so inclined to “tidy up” this early, do it with purpose and be mindful of the sleeping and living creatures that are still hidden away. Take your time, look for any signs of beneficial insect stages and either take note and leave it for a later date, or carefully cut and set it aside in a natural area so solitary bees and others insects can still use the refuse for food or shelter. Refrain from adding more mulch because it can trap certain kinds of beneficial bees, beetles and flies that burrow in the ground (almost 70% of Canada’s bee species nest underground). For more information on how to properly “clean up” your yard read Nesting and Overwintering Habitat for Pollinators and Other Beneficial Insects PDF by the Xerces Society.
But again, the best thing to do is wait and to try to remove as little from your property as possible.
So in the meantime, what can you be doing instead of gardening?
- Get outside, go for walks, enjoy the little things; notice the bulbs emerging naturally and gracefully from the cool earth, poking their way through the leaf litter- now is the time to enjoy the scilla, crocus, pushkinia, galanthus and helleborus
- Continue to sow vegetable and annual seeds indoors and plan your garden; what are your goals for this year, however big or small?
- Early spring is the best time of year to be on the lookout for invasive pests and plant species and begin to develop an Integrated Pest Management plan; gypsy moths, garlic mustard, european buckthorn, and goutweed are commonly found throughout the Peterborough area
- Focus on spring cleaning your tools, your patio furniture, tidying your deck, potting bench or shed; put more focus into the inanimate things
- Celebrate the beginning of spring by honouring the maple tree, it’s delicious sap and syrup, and the work that goes into providing us all with natural liquid sugar; maybe consider ordering a maple for your own yard
- Repot indoor plants if needed
- Read up on and think about ways you can increase pollinator habitat on your property or within your community, no matter the scale
There is so much that you can do while resisting the urge to rake or blow. Relax, enjoy the much needed sunshine that the vernal equinox has brought us after the long winter and try to go at the same pace nature is. Patience will pay off in the long run once you remember that gardening isn’t just about plants.
Great resources for more information about pollinators that spend the winters in our gardens and why we should hold off until mid-April to start yard work:
- Ontario Butterflies https://sites.google.com/site/ontariobutterflies/checklist?authuser=0
- Meet Ontario’s Pollinators https://www.uoguelph.ca/oac/news/meet-ontarios-pollinators
- Xerces https://xerces.org/sites/default/files/publications/18-014.pdf
- Feed the Bees https://feedthebees.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/A-Landowners-Guide-to-Conserving-Native-Pollinators-in-Ontario.pdf