On Friday, I talked about the importance of leaving some leaves in the garden to help wildlife.
I said that it would even help over-wintering pollinators. This is a topic that doesn’t get enough attention. Too many people think that once there has been a frost or a freeze, everything is “dead” in the garden. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Those of us who are long time bird feeders know that there is still lots of life in the garden in the presence of birds. And even though I have had to abandon my feeders for fear of bears (I will still toss out a small handful of seed in the morning for my friends, however!), I still have lots of birds–and believe me, it’s not the because of the few sunflower seeds I am providing.
When I lecture on house plants, I often joke that if I find an over-wintering grub or beetle, I will take it outside and toss it, calling to the birds, “fresh meat!” But really, they don’t need me. There are plenty of over-wintering insects, spiders and even natives bees right out in the gardens. That’s really why the birds are there. They just amuse us by coming to our feeders too.
I learned this first hand one winter when a tree-mounted feeder came down in a storm. I waded out in thigh deep snow drifts to put it back. What I was so surprised to find were several beetles and a couple of spiders nestled in the crevices of the bark of the tree where the feeder had been. I guess they had been protected under the feeder.
We of course know that many of our native bees are solitary. They may burrow into the ground for cover over the winter or, in the case of orchard mason bees, find a twig or stick to call home. I can’t tell you how many bees I have dug up in the early spring when I am planting. But they are very docile–I have never been stung. And I always feel terrible when it happens–sort of like the snake incident I described Friday.
And I am always disturbing spiders in the garden as well. I feel less terrible about that but I have an uneasy relationship with spiders. I know they are the “good guys,” but they still are creepy to me. Still, I never kill them–I just make sure I see where they are going so I don’t come upon them again.
Ground beetles are the same way. They are doing good work in the garden and need to be left alone.
So as we enter into this “quiet” season in our “northern” gardens, don’t think of them as dormant at all. There’s lots going on out there. If you’re adventurous enough, you can even get out there and find it!