Don't take the garden tidy up too far and eradicate beneficial wildlife on the way!
Every year come fall we get the notion of having to tidy up the garden
and get it ready for the next season. The leaves are falling off the
trees and shrubs, perennials are dying back and the roses are starting
to look tatty.
If you are a conventional...or should I say traditional gardener you get very busy on the last fine days of the fall. Leaves get raked off the lawn and beds, flower beds get a good tidy up and every weed is removed. Vegetable beds are getting dug over in the hope that a frost would break up the hard lumpy soil. Soon the garden looks pristine and tidy....
But...is this practice really a good idea? If you want your garden to be more natural and function like a balanced ecosystem you want to rethink and question this tradition and maybe adapt it.
The aim of every organic gardener should be to preserve and create habitats for beneficial insects and predatory animals like e.g. hedgehogs, toads or lizards.
A tidy garden is often a very hostile
environment for these creatures. They basically can't find a home and
they move elsewhere leaving the place to all the slugs, bugs, and green
flies that will attack your plants once the spring comes around.
A thick layer of mulch or fallen leaves makes a cozy home for insects
like millipedes, beetles, and earthworms. The leaves help them to
overwinter and stay protected while they start shredding and decomposing
the leaves. The soil underneath it stays healthy and fertile. When doing your garden tidy up pile raked up leaves onto garden beds and around trees and shrubs.
A lot of insects like e.g. mason bees build their nests in hollow stems of plants. Their larvae overwinter in the stems and they emerge in the spring ready to pollinate fruit trees, vegetables, and flowers in your garden. So leave them on the plants in the autumn. If they are still there in the spring they can be just become part of the mulch layer.
Piles of wood, twigs, and branches of shrubs and some leaves piled up in a corner of the garden is a great home for hedgehogs to overwinter. Hedgehogs live of slugs and snails, worms, beetles, and caterpillars. Having a few allies like that in your garden is of great benefit!
A pile of larger stones or a dry stone wall in a sunny spot is a great home for lizards. These creatures are cold-blooded and need to sunbathe to warm up. They live off insects, bugs, caterpillars, worms, small slugs, and flies.
A bug hotel is a great way to encourage beneficial insects like mason bees, lacewings, ladybugs, and spiders. But larger bug hotels can also become a home to lizards or hedgehogs. The idea is to create a structure with a lot of small spaces that will provide shelter and nesting space.
Encourage birds into your garden by hanging up nesting boxes and providing big shrubs, trees and hedges as habitat. They are great at keeping pest populations at bay. A pair of blue tits, for example, feeds around 15.000 caterpillars and flies to its babies within a 3 week period! Also important is not disturb the birds during their breeding time in spring and summer. Keep your hedge cutting to late summer and autumn when the birds are finished rearing their young.
Gardens are of course homes to exotic plants. Often those plants don't support the native wildlife species. If you want to encourage a balanced ecosystem in your garden and establish healthy food chains it is a good idea to plant as many native species as you can in your garden. These plants provide food and attract the insects that are the foundation of the food chain. These, in turn, will feed larger animals like birds for example.
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