Spring cleaning? Not so fast

Spring cleaning? Not so fast

After weeks and months of grey skies, snow and freezing temperatures, it seems as though we have turned a corner toward spring. As we all spend more time outside in the sunny and warm weather, it may be tempting to begin spring cleanup of yards, gardens and flower beds. Although there seems to be a lot of work to be done, there are actually a lot of benefits to taking a more simplistic approach with maintenance and cleaning.

The spring breeze stirs up the leaves again, and I know people are eager to begin work on cleaning up the leaves, but they actually provide some great benefits to your lawns and gardens. Although it is commonly referred to as “leaf litter,” leaves that are able to decompose provide a source of nutrients and organic matter and are anything but “litter.” A layer of leaf litter or leaf mulch also can provide a critical layer of protection for emerging plants should we experience a late frost or freeze.

Additionally, leaf litter provides habitat for many of our native insects, mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Numerous beneficial insects, like ladybugs, pass the winter in leaf litter as adults. Other insects spend it in the leaves as eggs or pupae. Some butterflies pass it as adults under the leaves and some moths, like Luna moths, as cocoons that actually look just like a leaf. You may have heard of the saying, “leave the leaves,” and hopefully you consider following this recommendation, both in the fall and now in the spring.

Another important yet simple practice is to leave stems in place until temperatures are consistently above 50 F. Native bees and other native insects utilize stems for over-winter habitat. Similar to the leaves, allowing them to decompose after trimming can provide additional benefits to the soil health. Other than the native bees, other beneficial insects like syrphid flies, lacewings and parasitic wasps utilize hollow plant stems to survive the winter.

As you are pruning, also make sure to watch for cocoons and chrysalises. These can be found especially in trees and shrubs. The other challenge with spring pruning is bird nests. Be careful about what branches you are pruning and double check to make sure you are not disturbing any bird nests.

Leaving some of the leaves or adding mulch to your flower beds is beneficial, but so is some open soil. Again, many of our native bees and beneficial insects burrow into the soil to spend the winter and will emerge as the soil temperatures increase. Hold off on mulching until the soil is starting to warm up and dry out to allow for these species to emerge from their winter homes.

We put so much effort into trying to attract birds, butterflies and pollinators to our yards and gardens, but it actually comes down to taking a low-management approach to provide them a conducive habitat that will allow them to not only survive but thrive.

Over time, taking advantage of these approaches to “spring cleanup” will save you time and money, and your yard or garden may become a preferred location for many cool species of wildlife.

Frank Becker is the Wayne County OSU Extension agriculture and natural resources integrated pest management program coordinator and a certified crop advisor and may be called at 330-264-8722 or emailed at becker.5872osu.edu.

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