Don’t Rush Your Spring Clean Up!

Katey Pratt, Horticulturist
May 3, 2023


Ready to Start Your Spring Clean Up?

Spring is right around the corner! Do you feel like somehow your

garden chores are already stacking up? With so much to do, you may

be tempted to get a jump-start on your spring garden clean-up… but

remember to take a breath! Be patient!

Unpredictable Weather

Wisconsin definitely has some harsh, random weather! As an extreme example, we can look to historical records for Lake Monona. According to the Wisconsin State Climatology Office, the latest opening date (when the lake thawed to an observable 50% ice cover) was May 4, 1857! If you remove all the dead foliage from your perennials and grasses too early, you will expose the crown of the plant to extreme temperatures or fluctuations with no insulation around their root zone. Even hardy, cold-tolerant plants appreciate a natural blanket at this time of year.

Leave Your Leaves

Does it really make sense to remove every single leaf just for you to mulch again in the upcoming weeks? No! Leaf litter, long grass, and brush piles are critical components in your garden for many reasons. Leaves decompose and add important organic matter to your soil. Fallen leaves provide shelter for insects, which are rich in protein and a necessary food for birds, especially as they are raising their young. Beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings, and soldier beetles are hibernating in your leaves. If you let them be, once they wake up from their winter slumber, they will help you battle common garden pests without the use of chemicals. Long grass and brush piles are highly attractive to our feathered friends, providing nesting material and protection from predators while foraging.

Seed Heads for Birds

Hopefully, you left some perennial and grass foliage in your garden for additional winter interest. Now, let them stand just a little bit longer! Both migrant and winter birds rely on seeds from native perennials and grasses. When food sources are scarce, foraging birds such as sparrows, towhees, buntings, chickadees, nuthatches, and finches will appreciate having a smorgasbord of seeds to choose from – plus, it’s fun watching them!

Hollow Stems for Bees

There are many plants with hollow stems that should be left standing as long as possible. They could be housing native bees and beneficial insects who are overwintering, hunkered down inside the stem as either adults or pupae. In fact, 30% of North American native bees are cavity nesters that lay their eggs in the hollow stems of plants, including mason and leafcutter bees.