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Rethinking the Fall Clean-Up Ritual

October is a wonderful time of year. Skies are clear blue … the air is crisp. It’s also a time to get your yard and garden ready for winter. However, I want you to do something different this year. Things we usually do at this time of year may not be the best thing for nature. Hear me out.

Do you have beautiful perennial flowers? Are you about to cut them down? This year, consider letting them stand. Any seed heads should be left alone to feed birds in the coming months. Their stems, as well, should be allowed to stand because various insects overwinter inside, or lay their eggs in stems.

What about leaf litter? Many species of caterpillars make use of leaf litter. Some eat leaves when they hatch, and then overwinter. Others, such as the Luna moth, overwinter as a cocoon. Minute bugs and other critters also live in the leaf litter, providing food for birds and their offspring.

If you love birds, the last thing you want to do is to dispose of their food supply. And if you use a leaf blower or rake, or bag and throw out your leaves, you are throwing out beautiful moths and butterflies that were destined for your garden next year!

If you must clean up the leaves, why not rake them into one corner of your yard where they can spend the winter. You, and the birds in your yard, will be rewarded next spring.

Before winter sets in, do a last round planting for the fall, adding some bright color and a supply of nectar for native bees and other insects. I recommend goldenrod, asters and cone flowers.

Recently, I have been raising Monarch butterflies indoors. I collected caterpillars in August from my meadow (before it was to be mowed) and gave the caterpillars milkweed leaves to eat until they entered the chrysalis stage. I have been releasing them on the warmer, and dry fall days. Plantings of native fall flowers will help them on their way.

Blog post by Karen Schnitzer, CLT Vice President


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