2. The Butterflies: While the monarch flies south to overwinter in Mexico, most other butterflies stay put and take shelter somewhere dry and safe until spring. Some butterflies, like the mourning cloak, comma, question mark, and Milbert’s tortoise shell, overwinter as adults. They nestle into rock fissures, under tree bark, or in leaf litter until the days grow longer again and spring arrives. Butterflies that overwinter in a chrysalis include the swallowtail family, the cabbage whites and the sulphurs. Many of these chrysalises can be found either hanging from dead plant stems or tucked into the soil or leaf litter. You can guess what a fall gardening clean up does to them. And still other butterfly species, such as the red-spotted purple, the viceroy, and the meadow fritillary, spend the winter as a caterpillar rolled into a fallen leaf or inside the seed pod of a host plant. If we cut down and clean up the garden, we are quite possibly eliminating overwintering sites for many of these beautiful pollinators (and perhaps even eliminating the insects themselves!). Another excellent way you can help butterflies is to build a caterpillar garden for them; here’s how. Declining butterfly populations are one of the best reasons not to clean up the garden.
But if you've applied a deep layer of mulch, it will eventually need to be scraped away from your perennials because, otherwise, it may smother the perennials. The best approach, once the ground is starting to thaw, is to begin checking to see whether your perennials are pushing up. If they are, remove the mulch when it's warm out but replace it when the cold returns (until the cold stops returning altogether). When warmer weather comes back for good and the perennials have pushed up a few inches, apply a layer of mulch again that will suppress weeds and conserve water throughout the summer.
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I know it is difficult NOT to fall clean up ‘cuz it feels great to have your garden all tucked in and neat for the winter, but what you are doing is chopping up the overwintering insects, moth and butterfly eggs or pupae, etc. If we chop leaves in the fall instead of waiting until late spring when it’s warm enough for ALL the critters to have come out, we will have no moths or butterflies, nor will the baby birds have caterpillars to eat. There is tremendous loss of habitat and we are contributing to it by over-zealous tidying in addition to the invasive plants along the roads and in other unattended areas, exotic non-natives in our gardens which native insects can’t eat, plus overabundant deer in the forest destroying the understory that insects have plummeted 45% in the last 30 years. If we keep disposing our leaves and removing them from their host trees and cutting back perennials in fall, we are breaking the circle of life and making our ecosystem unhealthy. With the loss of insects we may find ourselves in the future unable to pollinate our crops, a very scary possibility.
Another unpleasant task in spring yard cleanup is dog waste disposal. It's especially unpleasant when you have to clean up after someone else's dog. There's not much you can do to stop litter, but there is something you can do to help keep other people's dogs from defecating on your property: Begin researching dog repellents. You don't want to be out there all summer long with a pooper-scooper. And no, don't compost dog feces, for the same reason you shouldn't try to compost cat poop: Carnivore feces contain pathogens, the removal of which through the composting process is best left to experts.
Prune flowering perennials to a height of 4–5 inches and ornamental grasses to 2–3 inches to allow new growth to shoot up. Where soil has thawed, dig up perennials, such as daylilies and hostas, to thin crowded beds; divide them, leaving at least three stems per clump, and transplant them to fill in sparse areas. Cut back winter-damaged rose canes to 1 inch below the blackened area. On climbers, keep younger green canes and remove older woody ones; neaten them up by bending the canes horizontally and tipping the buds downward. Use jute twine or gentle Velcro fasteners to hold the canes in place.
Where tree or shrub branches have been damaged by cold, snow, and wind, prune back to live stems; use a handsaw for any larger than ½ inch in diameter. Shaping hedges with hand pruners, rather than electric shears, prevents a thick outer layer of growth that prohibits sunlight and air from reaching the shrub's center. At right, Roger neatens up a yew by pruning wayward shoots back to an intersecting branch. Prune summer-flowering shrubs, such as Rose of Sharon, before buds swell, but wait to prune spring bloomers, like forsythia, until after they flower.
Yes; the advice applies for all climates. We have a lot of moisture in the winter here, too, and though the fallen leaves and stems that remain in my perennial beds do turn slimy and sometimes harbor slugs, they also harbor ground beetles, firefly larvae, and lots of other good bugs that eat those slugs (Oregon State University has done some excellent research on creating habitat for ground beetles). Leaving winter habitat in place will encourage more good bugs than bad ones, in turn keeping things in balance. That’s what it’s all about; bringing balance back to the garden. I know it’s a complete about-face from what horticulturists like me have taught for many years, but it’s a shift that needs to happen if we want our gardens to be havens for pollinators, beneficial insects, birds, and other species of wildlife. As for your comment on self-seeding plants, yes, if you have a plant species that is a prolific self-seeder, then you’ll probably want to deadhead it before it drops seeds to keep the plant from becoming invasive. In my own garden this isn’t an issue because I like for most of my plants to self-sow, but if you don’t, simply deadhead them but leave the stems standing.
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Some shrubby plants with woody stems (artemisia, buddleia, caryopteris, lavender...) need to be cut back each spring because they only bloom on new branches. These are pruned in the spring to limit winter damage and to encourage the plant to start sending out those new flowering branches. It's best to wait until danger of a hard frost is past. Most of these woody perennials will let you know when it's time to prune them by showing signs of opening buds on the lower stem portions or new growth at the base of the plants.
Here’s a story offerred for next spring’s readers. About 12 early-springs ago I decided to get a jump start on the vegi garden, pulling the previous year’s plant remains and putting them in the compost pile, etc. As I turned the soil to incorporate last years mulch into the beds, using a pitchfork, it was maybe my 3rd plunge into the soil when I ran into a large frog buried in the soil, still hibernating. Thinking I had hurt him I ran into the house to get a box to put him in and hoped to nurse him back to health; when I’d returned he was gone, and hopefully hadn’t been hurt too badly. Obviously a frog isn’t a pollinator, but be careful out there folks! All around us are worlds of living beings who make our lives possible; we need to protect them!