We often plan for our pollinators in the summer by planting beautiful blooming flowers in tidy gardens, but what can we do for them in the fall and winter?
Many of the pollinators in Minnesota that do not migrate go into a state of dormancy known as diapause. Prior to this dormancy, pollinators begin seeking a place to rest for the winter.
Some solitary bees begin nesting, and others lay eggs for the next generation.
Moths and butterflies in all stages of development find a place to burrow, build cocoons and lay eggs for the cold months ahead.
All these phenomena are happening in the natural spaces around our yards and there are a few things we can do to help ensure their survival.
One of the most valuable actions to support pollinators in your yard may be to leave your leaves. Though many consider leaf litter a nuisance, to an entomologist, they are a goldmine. Leaf litter provides food, shelter and breeding grounds for many insects.
Swallowtail butterflies and luna moths will even camouflage their cocoons and chrysalises as dried leaves.
The most valuable thing you can do is leave the leaves on your lawn and in your gardens.
If you are unable to, due to homeowner associations or other restrictions, consider raking them off your lawn and gently placing them in your garden beds and planters.
Come spring make sure to wait until temperatures consistently are above 50 degrees before removing your leaves to ensure all your pollinators have time to hatch or come out of dormancy before mulching.
An added benefit to leaving your leaves until spring offers your plants nutrients and helps insulate them from the cold.
As well as nesting in leaf litter, many pollinators seek shelter in stems and sticks. Consider leaving your dead flower and grass stalks standing for the winter.
Many mason bees, leafcutter bees and carpenter bees, as well as countless other insects, prefer to lay eggs in winter in stems and wood. Pithy canes of brambles are also a favorite for stem nesters.
If you need to cut down your dead plants, consider leaving the stems at least 18-20 inches tall and bundling your remaining stems. Then place your stem bundles in a location where they will not be disturbed. You can even bundle your stem stalks and sticks and place them in a horizontal pot or nook to create your own homemade solitary bee house. Watch the bees fill and cap the stems you created for them!
Finally, another pollinator-friendly tip is to avoid ground disturbances. There are many ground and cavity nesters. Bumble bees and mining bees, for instance, prefer to nest in burrowed bare soil and in dead wood.
In the fall, it is best to avoid tilling and digging projects to avoid nest disruption. Many garden beds are ideal nesting sites. For tunneling bees, try to leave any standing dead trees, if they are safe. If wood needs to be moved, find a place out of the way where you can pile it for the pollinators.
Many moths and butterflies also use these sticks and branches as a sturdy place to affix their cocoons.
Creating a pollinator-conscious yard is fun and easy. It often requires less maintenance than you may be used to. Support your wild pollinating insects, be an advocate for your bees and most importantly tell your friends. Every yard helps and every unturned leaf may harbor a treasure.
Claire Hansen is a part-time conservation and outreach technician for Hubbard County Soil & Water Conservation District.