Spring cleanup for the yard typically includes trimming dead branches from trees and shrubs that may have been damaged over the winter, cutting back spent stems from perennials, raking up leaf litter and laying down some fresh mulch in the garden beds, but if you haven’t gotten around to cleaning up your yard yet – great! Waiting until daily temperatures in our area are at least 50 degrees or more is actually better for your yard in the long run – here’s why:
Pollinators such as native bees, and beneficial predators such as parasitic wasps, lacewings and syrphid flies (hoverflies) spend their winters snuggled in hollow plant stems as adults or pupae. Cutting down these dead plant stems very early in spring can affect the emergence of these good-for-the-landscape insects.
If you must trim back dead plant stems from woody and/or perennial plants, toss the stems very loosely onto a compost pile or out of the way area in your yard to give any over-wintering residents time to emerge when they’re ready. You can also take the cut stems and tie them into small bundles (no more than a few dozen per bundle) and lean them against a tree or fence at an angle. Doing this will also allow native bees to set up house in the hollow stems, possibly using them as brood chambers all summer long.
When trimming woody perennials or shrubs, be on the lookout for cocoons and chrysalises, and leave these branches be until later in the season. Many beautiful moths and butterflies such as the Swallowtail, Spring Azure and Sulphur spend their winters in cocoons delicately hanging from these branches.
Resist the urge to trim dead stems down to the ground. If you leave about 6-8” of hollow stems, future generations of native bees and helpful predators will use these as winter shelter, helping to nurture a healthy eco-system in your yard. The plants’ new growth will soon cover these dead stems.
When raking leaves from your perennial beds, again, it pays to wait until the days consistently reach at least 50 degrees. Beneficial insects such as ladybugs, damsel bugs and assassin bugs and butterflies such as Commas, Question Marks, Morning Cloaks and Luna Moths overwinter in leaf litter (the Luna Moth’s cocoon looks like a crinkled brown leaf, in fact). So if you can avoid disturbing them until they’re ready to emerge when temperatures have warmed, so much the better.
Waiting a bit before you start laying down mulch has its advantages, too, since many pollinators and beneficials use soil burrows to overwinter as adults as well as eggs or pupae. Tiny Hummingbirds, Soldier Beetles, Clearwing Moths and some native bees are among this group. Waiting until the soil dries out a bit and warms up before applying mulch will ensure these garden helpers won’t be blocked from emerging from their winter soil home.
Another thing to consider before starting your spring cleanup – calling us here at Farmside Landscape & Design to do it all for you. We’ll take care of all your spring cleanup needs and mulch application along with lawn care tasks such as applying weed and insect preventatives, aerating your turf, over-seeding and mowing, and trimming your lawn to green-carpet-perfection. That way you can cross all those garden tasks off your to-do list in one quick swipe and take your weekends back to enjoy your outdoor space – not just work in it.