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Remember to 'Bee-Friendly' as you clean up your garden!

Photo: Julie Weisenhorn, Extension Educator

We all do it--the spring sun comes out, we get our first few days of 70-degree temperatures, and we're out there with the rake and clippers, clearing everything in sight, ready for a new growing season.

But now, thanks to extensive ongoing research, we know so much more about the habits of pollinators, and how to keep our yard and gardens "bee-friendly" all year round. That means, remembering what pollinators are doing, too, as the spring wakes up plants and insects alike.

Be careful with last year's plant stem debris

For example, Extension Bee Researcher and Educator Elaine Evans reminds us that stem nesting bees overwinter in stems. So what's the best time to clean up our garden beds?

Dr. Evans recommends the following: "What we have seen is that most stem-nesting bees have emerged by mid-June. If you want to clear out your garden beds before then you have two options:

  1. Examine broken stems for activity by bees (ends will be plugged with mud or vegetation) and leave those standing in the garden, 
  2. Or remove as many stems as you want but put them in a corner of your yard and leave them there for the summer so the bees can still emerge from the stems."

Don't forget about butterflies

We talk about bees all the time, but remember your efforts to clean things up can affect butterflies, too. Dr. Evans says some butterflies overwinter in leaf piles, and can't really fly until the temperatures stay in the 60s.

"I think they could tolerate the leaf piles being moved, but again it would be better to put the leaf pile into a corner of the yard to let them emerge. Shredding, burning, bringing to a large compost site where they would be buried, would likely kill any butterflies in there."

Video resources

Learn more about yard cleanup and how you can help pollinators, with this Extension video:

Learn how to make your garden a haven for bees by reading this Bee Lab blog post:

Author: Gail Hudson, Horticulture Extension Communications
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