Fica a Dica: Leave the Spring Clean-Up Until Mid-April
“Fica a dica” means “here’s some advice” in Portuguese.
We’re all getting antsy for spring, are we not? Yes, we are, especially with the snowdrops and crocuses peering around from their spots in our garden beds. Along with this impatience come the dreaded leaf blowers and rakes…and the blowing up of invertebrates and queen bees. So the Owl is putting on her MassAudubon and Xerces Society hats and telling you to hit the plant catalogs but NOT your garden.
If you consider yourself a friend of pollinators and nature, read on (and if you’re not you may want to consider not reading further, then again you probably don’t read the Owl anyway). Calm your spring clean crazy…at least for another month. Here’s why:
Young queen bees have been surviving the winter in the ground under leaf litter. In the spring, when night temperatures are over 50 degrees…consistently..they emerge to start new hives. To help bees, leave the deep leaf litter around the bases of trees, shrubs, and perennial gardens until mid-April. Yes, MID-April. Do you want these poor royal bumbles to be jettisoned into the afterlife by master blaster? No, you do not. You like pollinators because you like to live.
When you blow away leaves, you’re actually blowing away insect larvae and eggs. Most butterfly and moth species do not migrate but rather overwinter in leaf litter. Who knows the woolly bear with its brown and black stripes which “predict” winter’s strength? Fuzzy wuzzies, as they were known to me, hide between old plant stems, flowers, grass, and leaves until spring. Some butterflies overwinter in their adult butterfly forms in sheltered places like under bark or in a woodpile. They do not love being blown out of their hiding spots.
Try to stop your spring cleanup until mid-April or until the temperature is consistently over 50 degrees when the native insects start to move about and leave their winter shelters.
You don’t have to believe me, of course, though I am generally right (ahahaha, sorry that had to happen). You can read much more about this in Xerces Society’s blog here: https://xerces.org/blog/dont-spring-into-garden-cleanup-too-soon.
If you are not familiar with Xerces, I surmise you have not driven up my street in May when our yard participates in No Mow May and a little prairie forms the edge of Lincoln’s Pollinator Pathway (yep, my backyard is Lincoln). Here’s Xerces Society’s official mission, and the sad story of its name:
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is an international nonprofit organization that protects the natural world through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats. Our name (which is pronounced Zer-sees, or /ˈzɚˌsiz/) comes from the now-extinct Xerces blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche xerces), the first butterfly known to go extinct in North America as a result of human activities. The Xerces blue’s habitat was destroyed by development in the sand dunes of San Francisco, and the species was declared extinct by the 1940s.
You can find out more about how to do better on their website here. And come along to Lincoln Land Conservation Trust’s free webinars about their pollinator projects, the next one being a fine spring day–March 20. Check it out here.
Let’s give the pollinators a bit of a lie-in, shall we? We shall.
Thanks for writing about this topic and educating all the people who don’t yet think
about the pollinators who are waiting to get out and start looking for early nectar and
pollen. I’m happy to leave my yard in its untended state for a little while longer to give
the bees the time they need!
Dear Wise Owl, I am so glad you sent out this reminder to hold off until its reliably 50 degrees and above before we all go berserk and remove every last bit of the wild.
I had momentarily lost my mind and was getting ready to cut my untouched and overwintered pollinator garden down next week… Well maybe leave some of the bigger grass stems at 2 feet.
But you are right. It can wait.
Thank you for the very valuable reminder to all of us who love our native bumbles and all the other little invertebrates out there.
Remember everyone, no insects= no birds.
Even worse, no insects = no humans