Books & Prose


Late Clean-up for a Native Pollinator Garden

By Anna M. Warrock

They have been cozy all winter, those eggs, caterpillars, pupae, and chrysalises—the pollinators-to-be. Some parents hid caterpillar eggs in the leaves, others burrowed into stalks to lay eggs. Some insects made it to chrysalis stage and await warmer temperatures—and a coincident bloom of flowers—to emerge. The insects awaken given particular levels of moisture, light, temperature, and their internal clocks.

Which is why attentive gardeners do not clean up their native pollinator (NP) garden right away. Many of the plants are caterpillar food on which parents deposit eggs and overwintering caterpillars often hunker down nearby. Says the book, Attracting Native Pollinators by the Xerces Society, “Most species [of butterflies and moths] pass the winter as eggs, caterpillars, or pupae in protected surrounding such as leaf litter or dense vegetation.” And I can’t even begin to list all the ways the bees, beetles, flies, and wasps spend their winters: in holes in the ground, in dried plant stalks, plastered to tree trunks, in holes in dead wood. You name it, they do it! A queen bumblebee winters solo in a ground or leaf nest and comes out when ready to lay the first generation of female drones.

So keep an NP garden more like a field than a tidy home garden until spring warms up. In any garden, leaving nooks of leaves until at least late May will help the populations of butterflies and moths, bees, flies, and beetles needed to pollinate our plants, feed other insects and birds, and beautify our lives.

Originally published in slightly different form in the Somerville Garden Club newsletter, 2018.