Master Gardener: Fall tips to help pollinators | Lifestyles | – The Daily News Online


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Autumn ablaze in colorful leaves is a sign that our growing season is coming to an end.People love to travel around to see those leaves, but when they fall in their backyards, they aren’t so popular. We rake up every last leaf and put them to the curb to be hauled away.Hopefully they end up being turned into compost, not deposited in a landfill.However, if you’re a bumblebee queen about to spend the winter underground, those leaves are a great blanket. Many butterflies and moths spend the winter in the leaves as eggs, cocoons or chrysalis waiting for spring to arrive.Removing all the leaves from your yard also removes many of the beneficial insects we spent the summer trying to attract to our yards.What’s a gardener to do?Leaves have several benefits for the garden. Aside from being a great place for insects and other small critters to shelter over the winter, they are a great source of organic matter as they decay.Organic matter can improve the water holding capacity of soils, improve the tilth of the soil and reduce drought damage. Instead of buying compost use your free leaves.Leaves can help protect plants from winter winds and freeze/thaw cycles. Start with a 2 to 3 inch layer of leaves around plants. Cover the vegetable garden in a layer of leaves to prevent soil erosion.For the serious composter having a supply of dry leaves will give you a supply of carbon materials to use next summer.Yes, there can be a downside to too many leaves in the garden.Some leaves, like maple and catalpa can form a heavy mat over the garden and potentially smother some plants. Voles also love a garden that has a deep layer of leaves on it as they can use those to run under over the winter.Finding that balance of what works in your garden might take some trial and error.I’ve been trying to get away from using mulch — wood —in my garden and letting the leaves lie is one way. They can suppress weeds and hold moisture in the soil.As leaves break down, they also add nutrients back into the soil. Shredding leaves first will help prevent them from matting down, but you are also chopping up any resident insects which defeats the purpose.When it comes to leaves, it’s not a one size fits all solution.Diseased leaves, like we saw earlier this summer with tar spot and anthracnose in maple trees, need to be disposed of. Left on the ground they will act as sources of the disease next year.A small yard with a large tree may not have enough room to keep all those leaves on the property.Can you keep half? A quarter? Can you rake the leaves under a hedge or into a corner?What about lawns and leaves?Too many leaves will smother the grass and can promote snow molds in the spring. It can also lead to vole damage in the turf.When it comes to lawns, mowing leaves into small pieces is the way to go as it will add nutrients and organic matter to the turf. Sorry insects!Of course, if you can reduce how much lawn you have then there is more room for leaves and all those critters they support.What else can you do to help beneficial insects and pollinators successfully over winter in your yard? Aside from leaves, where else do they spend the winter?Native bees are either cavity-nesters or they create nests in areas that have bare ground.Cavity nesting bees look for things like rotting logs, woody stems, hollow plant stems or dead branches — something they can excavate and lay their eggs in.Eggs laid earlier this season will overwinter as larvae so if you remove those materials now no bees will be emerging next spring.Bumblebees will make their nests in protected cavities that they might find in a stone wall, old rodent hole, hollow log or under a tuft of bunchgrass.Only new queen bumblebees survive the winter, spending it on their own. They look for a protected spot just below the soil surface that they can burrow into.Our native lad bugs will over winter in large groups and look for safe places in leaf litter, mulch piles, tussocks of grass or under bark.If you just have to cut back dead perennials this fall, consider leaving some of the stalks for the bees to use next spring. They like perennials that have pithy or hollow stems.By leaving stem stubble at varying heights between 8 and 24 inches, you can create nesting areas, which then become overwintering sites. The stalks aren’t that noticeable once the seed heads and leaves are gone.Your garden looks neat and tidy, and the bees are happy too.Keep the buffet line open — I was able to find over a dozen different flowers still in bloom in my yard on Oct. 1, the majority of which are native plants.Asters are the big winner when it comes to abundance in October. I have several large plantings of native asters, mainly calico and crooked stem aster, that the bees were just going crazy over.The goldenrod is pretty much done, but there were a few stems in bloom here and there — usually with more than one species of insect on it.Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’, tall coreopsis, mist flower, Jerusalem artichoke, narrow-leaf ironweed, phlox, ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod and Heuchera ‘Autumn Bride,’ sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and caryopteris are all in bloom.If you’ve been tending your gardens to encourage pollinators and beneficial insects, don’t stop now. Keep as many leaves as possible on your property.Limit cleaning up your garden, so you aren’t removing next year’s generation of native bees, bumble bees, butterflies, and moths.Seed heads are also good food sources for our wintering birds. Your garden doesn’t have to look messy — you can still neaten things up but do it thoughtfully.Keep the butterflies, ladybugs, bumblebees, and fireflies in mind.Hours and programmingHave a gardening question?Master Gardener volunteers are normally in the office Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to noon. Stop in at the CCE office at 420 East Main St. in Batavia, call (585) 343-3040, ext. 127, or e-mail them at: [email protected] the first Tuesday of the month, join the Genesee County Master Gardeners for our lunch time Garden Talks from noon to 12: 45 p.m.The program on Thursday will be “Winter Bird Feeding 101.” This free program will be held on Zoom.Please register at our CCE website events page at to get your personal link. Programs are recorded and posted to the CCE Genesee YouTube page.

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