Doing work in the yard at this time of year is harmful to pollinators

Ah, late winter in Washington. One day we will have warm weather, and the next – frost and frost.

That’s why gardeners and backyard enthusiasts should wait to tidy up their open spaces, even if spring views are tempting.

Many healthy open spaces depend on pollinators to thrive. While this includes well-known pollinators – birds, bees and butterflies – it also includes other insects such as beetles and moths. In the winter months these lifeless plants and backyard leaves are actually food and habitat for many pollinators.

Like bears, many pollinators hibernate during the winter. It is estimated that almost 70 percent of all bee species nest – and often hibernate – in the ground. This means that obstacles in the garden, whether it is harvesting leaves or planting winter crops, can disrupt their home.

Similarly, hollow plant stems protect bees and butterflies at low temperatures. Pruning them can also mean cutting off the insects that nest in the cavities.

In some cases, this is inevitable: perennials really need to be pruned, and bulbs are inevitably planted in early winter. With this in mind, we can take precautions to protect pollinators while maintaining our open spaces.

First, try to keep any ground breaches shallow (less than six inches deep). Often nesting clumps can be seen in the soil or, for those who have really good eyes, in the stems of woody plants. If they are spotted, they can be protected.

For those who have been to the beach and seen small holes in the sand from shellfish, bees that nest on the ground make similar kind of shapes in the soil. One option is to mark these nests with a flag or other marker and bypass them. Some species, such as mason bees, “close” their nests with leaves, dirt or other fibers. This makes their nests a little easier to identify.

These stems should be cut at least 6-12 inches from the nest, and then can be placed in a dry and cool place. Once the temperature rises until spring, these cuttings can be moved back to the garden to allow the insects to survive through the season. Hotels for insects can also direct views to a safe place for wintering, away from activities in gardens and yards.

As many children know: invertebrates also like to hide under stones and logs. Think twice before collecting or clearing fallen trees, snags or logs. Many local pollinators, beetles and caterpillars use them for wintering. If they can be left alone, many species will leave in the spring.

Generally, if the plants are not diseased, infested with pests or invasive, leave it until true spring comes and the temperature is not warm enough for many of these important creatures to survive. Your garden and backyard will thank you.

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