Don’t rake or “tidy” gardens early: Someone’s there
We can feel spring’s approach. It’s in the rain; it’s in the meltwater coursing through ditches. It’s that rich earthy smell of moist soil… and the honking of Vs of Canada Geese, returning to opening watercourses.
Already we are welcoming returning bird migrants such as Eastern Bluebirds, Turkey Vultures and American Kestrels – while our residents such as American Goldfinches are getting their showy breeding plumage.
And, we are thankful that the grass will soon be green, that the crocus will soon blossom – and that the strengthening sun allows us to get out into our gardens.
But wait! Get off your lawn! No raking! Leave nature alone – just a wee bit longer.
Grass needs time to develop its fragile roots now that the growing season is commencing. Moreover, getting out into the garden and lawn while it’s still soggy will compact the soil. Your footsteps leave impressions where water pools, impeding good drainage.
Oh but a wee bit of raking looks so good, doesn’t it? Freshens the lawn. Gets rid of those autumn leaves that have flattened with the weight of snow.
Please don’t rake and “beautify” the lawn because it and our perennial gardens’ spent flower stalks and leaves are animals’ refuges.
Homes for Critters
Insects overwinter in leaf litter and perennial plants’ stems. During winter’s frigid temperatures, American toads, frogs and other animals find protection in the insulating blanket we provide for them, when we allow autumn’s leaves to remain on the ground.
Raking before the lawn grass is green exposes these beneficial animals to chill and wetness which can kill or set them back.
These wintering-over habitats have a crucial place in wildlife’s lives. Let them be until the grass is green and the soil less wet and frozen.
Consider the American Toad. They are carnivorous animals that eat garden slugs, flies, crickets, ants and other invertebrates.
Toads are beneficial. If we rake away their overwintering shelter of leaves and other “garden detritus” we are exposing them to spring’s varied and extreme temperatures which can kill them.
Consider butterflies and moths. Monarchs migrate – but most of our native species have adapted to overwintering on or near their host plant, often in egg form. That host plant may be a plant you might think can be “cleaned up”. Think again.
“Eggs and caterpillars can be found in protected areas on or near the host plants that they use for food in the spring. Other butterflies, like those in the well-known swallowtail family, winter in the chrysalis stage securely attached within dense vegetation.” (https://bit.ly/386nvUK)
Pollinators in hollow stems
Bees and other pollinators often will choose hollow stems of perennial plants as overwintering nests. Cavity-nesting bees will create cozy homes there.
If I use my secateurs to cut down the phlox, iris, poppy and other perennial plants’ stems that I purposely left standing to give wildlife a home during winter, I am killing the very pollinators who will help my garden just before they can again be of assistance to me.
And? Let’s not forget those migrating birds who are insectivores. They eat insects. Birds such as swallows are declining in vast numbers because insects also are dying out. Remember how, when driving in summer, our windshields used to get splattered with insects? Not now. Agricultural pesticides and other chemical controls have done a dreadfully good job.
Let’s all do our non-chemical part.
Chemicals or biodiversity?
If we rake too early and “tidy up” our lawns and gardens, we kill the animals which help gardeners and farmers. Us. Life on Earth.
Then we resort to toxic chemicals that kill “pests.” These are not discriminant: they kill all insects, not “just” the ones we deem undesirable.
Toxic chemicals get into our watercourses and affect other animals.
So don’t rake too early. Give our animal helpers the chance for life they, too, deserve.
Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer, author, and visual artist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and view her art at facebook.com/KatharineFletcherArtist/