Cutting back withered flowers and dead stalks is often part of the late-summer routine in the garden, helping to maintain a tidy appearance. However, native bees, butterflies, ladybugs, and other valuable insects may shelter through the winter in the dried stalks, leaf litter, or under the bark of trees. Many native birds rely on seedheads as a food source. “Cleaning up” too thoroughly in your garden can deprive these important members of our native ecosystems of winter sustenance.
The National Audubon Society provides the following advice:
- Don't rake: Let fallen leaves and woody debris serve as a natural mulch; this will reduce unwanted weed growth, keep your plants' roots cool and moist, and provide areas for birds to forage for ground-dwelling insects.
- Enhance your garden area with brush piles that provide shelter for birds and other wildlife.
- Leave the seeds: Don't "dead-head" all of your flowering plants after they bloom, as those seedheads can be an important source of food during the fall and winter.
- In forested areas, leave dead trees and branches. Standing trees may provide homes for woodpeckers, chickadees, and other cavity-nesting species--while fallen trunks and branches support the entire forest food web.