How excited are you to get out and clean up your garden bed?! That dirty ol' snow pile has finally been kicked to the curb and you can get to setting up your garden just the way you like it.
But wait! What if I told you that cleaning up your bed too early could make your local ecosystem harmful to helpful pollinators and other beneficial insects? Let's dig into why it's better to look at a later start.
First, let's take a little time-travel trip back to the fall, where it's just starting to get chilly out. The days are getting shorter, warmer layers are recommended, and the trees in your yard are starting to show their beautiful colors. What a great time of year, right? However, that time of year also comes with an annoying, unwelcome "tradition." that tells us to spend hours raking, bagging, and hauling these fallen leaves away from our yards.
Why do we do this?
Lots of people do it to keep their yards spic and span, however, there aren't any real benefits to keeping a neat and tidy, leaf-free, yard over the winter. In fact, doing this can actually keep your yard from truly blossoming into a sustainable ecosystem.
According to the Xerxes Society, a non-profit group dedicated to the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats, leaving leaf debris in your yard is an excellent way for beneficial insects to survive over the winter. Winter in Minnesota is a very brutal environment, as you know, so our little invertebrate helpers, need all the help from us that they can get. Why? Because a healthy ecosystem is reliant on this unseen crew.
Damsel flies, ladybugs, and so many different varieties of native bees just love to overwinter under the layer of fallen leaves. Thick leaf litter is just ideal for these insects to survive the cold inhospitable months seen in Minnesota. Moreover, while you may begin to see bumble bees and ground-nesting bees emerge as the trees begin to flower and burst into full bloom, they still need a place to keep warm during the cold nights of early spring. Last years layer of fallen leaves is a perfect place for that to happen.
That's why it's recommended to wait until you can no longer stand it before you clean up your leaves. They serve a tremendous purpose.
Additionally, it's also suggested that, instead of raking, bagging, and hauling away your leaves, to instead simply run your lawn mower right over them. When you see daytime temperatures routinely reach the 50s, you can let your lawn mower rip. Cold-season lawns, like those in Minnesota, only begin growing after the soil reaches a consistent 50 degrees. If you have to regularly mow your lawn, it's a safe bet that all the pollinators have found different homes for the warm months. These newly mulched up leaves will add to the nutrient base of your lawn, which will lead to a healthier soil base as they decompose over the remainder of the spring and into the summer.
So, don't pull the trigger too soon. Give your pollinator friends the time to wake up properly so they can help you during the summer to make your garden and lawn the best they can be.