Mulch does many wonderful things for your garden: conserves water, cools plant roots, feeds the soil, smothers weeds. There's no question that every garden deserves a layer of mulch. Wait until the soil warms up and dries out a bit, before replenishing your mulch. Be sure to keep it away from the stems and crowns of your plants and, if you’re hoping for some self-seeding volunteers, give them a chance to germinate before you cover the bed with mulch.
Twenty-some years ago, fresh out of college with a horticulture degree in-hand, I started teaching adult education classes at a local botanic garden. For many years, I taught a class called Preparing Your Garden for the Winter. It was all about how to clean up the garden every fall. I would show slides (remember those?) of how well-kept gardens should look in January. In the images, every plant was cut to the nub, except for the ornamental grasses and butterfly bushes, and the whole garden was snug under a thick layer of mushroom soil mulch. The roses were neatly trimmed to two feet and wrapped in a blanket of burlap, folded and stapled closed to keep them protected from freezing winds. There was nary a fallen leaf in sight; everything was raked up and hauled off.
Good article! I’ve heard about preserving cover for native animals but have never heard much about preserving cover and habitat for beneficial insects. One question that came to mind was, if we preserve habitat for beneficial insects, might we also be helping along some of the pests as well? I’d still lean to preserving habitat regardless since the predator bugs would probably mitigate any pest presence
Just as people speak of "spring cleaning" tasks performed to freshen up a home that has been shuttered up all winter, so lawns and the rest of your landscaping need some TLC at this time of year to prepare your yard for the growing season. A spring yard cleanup checklist can be divided into six categories of related tasks, the first of which truly does involve something of a cleansing. These tasks are critical for getting your yard ready for gardening, etc.:
Brian Hudelson: From a disease standpoint, and that’s what I always concentrate on, is that old plant material can be a place where disease-causing organisms can survive the winter and they won’t be killed off by our Wisconsin winters. So, they’ll hangout there over the winter time and then when we get warmer, wetter weather in the spring, then those pathogens will be active and they can re–infect your plants in the spring.
HI Keith – Great question. Yes, sometimes leaving plant debris in place can shelter pest insects as well. But, in the spring, emerging beneficial insects need to eat pretty quickly after coming out of diapause (the insect version of hibernation) so when you leave overwintering habitat in place, any pests that managed to overwinter, serve as a very important early food source for the waking predatory bugs. When that early food source is present, the “good” bugs are more likely to stick around in your garden and control future pest outbreaks all season long. It’s all about bringing natural balance back to the garden. You won’t have beneficial insects if you don’t have lunch there for them, too! 🙂
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In early spring, many insects are still in diapause (a physiological state akin to hibernation). In other words, they’re still sleeping. Sometimes they wake up because the weather warms and sometimes they wake up because the day-length increases. Lots of beneficial insects, including pollinators like tiny native bees and pest-munching predators like syrphid flies, lacewings, and parasitic wasps, spend the winter hunkered down in hollow plant stems either as adults or pupae. Cutting down the dead plant stems too early in the spring will disturb them before they have a chance to emerge. Wait as long as you can to do your spring garden clean up. Ideally, you should wait until the daytime temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees F. But, that being said, I’m well aware that gardeners like to cut down old plant stems before new growth starts, so as an alternative to delaying your spring garden clean up, here are two other options: