If you live in a cold climate, there are many reasons you should let your garden sit in its natural state through the winter. Late spring is time enough to tidy it up.

Solitary native bees and many beneficial insects, like ladybug groups and butterflies in their adult and chrysalis forms, benefit from healthy standing flower stems and grasses during the winter. They often nest in the hollow stems, or burrow in under fading leaves for shelter from the elements. Birds also enjoy a neglected-looking garden, as there are seeds, berries and an occasional bug they can consume to survive the barren winter. Fallen leaves provide protection from winds and from the cold, wet earth.

While honeybees overwinter in hives, snuggled tightly together to stay warm, the 3500+ native solitary bee species in North America seek shelter to escape harsh weather and survive winter. They need a dry place where they won't freeze to death or be eaten by predators. If they fit into a hollow stem or ornamental grass, they’ll call it home. Otherwise, nestling under some tree bark will do the trick. The eggs and larvae of many native bees, like the gentle leaf cutter bee, overwinter in snug burrows dug into the earth. See the sweet and diligent leaf cutter bee in this 2:44 minute video:


Consider leaving your rake and pruning shears in the shed until spring is well established. Allow your garden to rest, and to look the way nature intended it to look... the way it would look if you didn’t jump in and change things.

Your garden may be messy, but there is a natural order to it all that we’ve been socially trained to dislike. We react by rote to an inner compulsion to tidy up, but why? Surely not because we worry about what the neighbors will think. Are we considering that there is probably a reason leaves fall to earth? 

Your view from the warmth of a kitchen window can be aesthetically pleasing if snow falls and decorates the land. It can encourage an inner state of meditative reflection that pairs well with the releasing and letting go of autumn and the solitary silence of winter.

Try learning to live with the disarray of a wild and decaying garden, knowing new life will burst forth in a few short months. If you just can’t stand looking at the broken branches and plant stems, peeled off tree bark and decaying leaves, pile them up and move them to a quiet and partly shady area in your garden.

Another thing to consider, if you don’t already have one, is to erect a bee house for the cavity-nesting bees that might like to be your guests for the winter.

Once you see signs that spring is coming, hasten slowly. If you are too fast in your desire to clear away the debris of autumn and winter, you may kill the very pollinators you have sheltered. Some insects, like butterflies, won’t fly until the warm nights return and this rarely happens quickly. April is time enough to clean up your garden. By then your winter guests will be bustling around, but even slower ones will scramble out of a crumbling compost pile before it totally decomposes.

Some experts recommend leaving broken and dead stems for a full two years if you’d like to help native bees survive the weather. They have a two-year life cycle, and nest in your hollow stems. This lets them return to nest in the same stems next year, and their baby bees will emerge the following summer.   

We need these pollinators for our survival. We protect them in summer by providing water and pesticide-free nectar-rich flowers. Our help is every bit as vital to them in autumn and winter. So, think twice before you sterilize your garden and turn it into a place that is pleasing to the eye, but offers these little creatures no protection when they need it most.

If you have autumn and winter gardening tips to help bees, please share them with us on our Facebook page.