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Garden Clean-up Reprise

If you think about it, now is the time that you are glad you did not clean up the garden last fall. Although my garden – left up over the winter - looks pretty miserable right now, I look at it and remember that my little space may be the home to a hibernating butterfly, caterpillar, chrysalis, bee or other species that is just getting ready to wake up in time to pollinate early flowers or feed hungry birds.

Did you know that the Mourning Cloak hibernates as an adult butterfly in tree cavities or under loose tree bark? What a great reason to plant a Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)! Others overwinter in the leaf litter, in a gall, or hanging from a stem. If you can, don’t get too excited about garden clean up if we have a warm spell in March. We are still likely a bit early for some species coming out of hibernation. It is best to wait until daytime temperatures are consistently above about 50⁰F.

If you must clean before that, remember that many beneficial insects overwinter in hollow plant stems. One idea would be to tie lengths of cut stems in small bundles and hang them from a fence or even prop them up in the garden for a while where it will be easy for these little guys to emerge when they’re ready.

Be careful too about removing leaf and plant litter too early. This offers shelter to a wide range of beneficial insects including the chrysalis, egg or larva of a variety of butterflies and skippers and shouldn’t be removed until day time temperatures are consistently warmer. In fact, keeping it in the garden adds a natural mulch that better mimics natural cycles. And if you apply prepared mulch, don’t be heavy handed. Native bees and other species that overwinter in the soil, may not be able to emerge from under a thick layer of applied mulch.

Instead, turn your attention to cleaning up your rain barrel and getting it reconnected in time for the spring rainy season. In fact maybe buy a second one and connect them so you can capture and hold more rainwater!


For more information on Mourning Cloaks, see http://www.naturenorth.com/spring/bug/mcloak/Mourning_Cloak.html

For more information on rain barrels, see https://www.theconservationfoundation.org/conservation-home/rain-barrels/ or other conservation and garden centers near you. Also, many local municipalities partner with The Conservation Foundation or other conservancy organizations to sell rain barrels. Some communities which have such programs include St. Charles, Yorkville, Oswego, Geneva, Batavia, Oak Park, Oak Lawn, Naperville, Oak Brook and others. Check with your city/village administration or park district.

Other helpful links include:

EPA, Soak Up the Rain: Rain Barrels. 

Chicago’s Rain Ready program

Savvy Gardening. Spring Garden Clean up Done Right. 

The Butterflies of Winter.