Winter has cascaded around us for months leaving chilly debris in its wake to blanket the world and encapsulate us in darkness. With summer approaching, many of us ache to get out from our hibernation dens and feel the nutrients of sunlight soaking our skin. Spring cleanup nagged at us with desperation to take action. But to what extent do our common practices in lawn care and gardening affect nature’s pollinators?
In spring, the surrounding world awakens. There is a resurgence of insects floating about the atmosphere, and we inquire where they came from as we remember flashes of cold winds and the harsh bite of frost on flesh. It is difficult to imagine something as minuscule as a ladybug or as delicate as a butterfly surviving such bitterness. This is where a unique evolutionary trait called diapause gives assistance in their fight for survival against the harsh winter. Diapause is a hibernation-like state found in various animals, most often in arthropods (invertebrates such as insects), in which they have the ability to freeze their development through pausing their metabolic activity. This allows them to survive undesirable environmental conditions such as drought, famine, and of course varying temperatures. Pretty neat magic trick, but what does this have to do with spring cleanup?
In a state of diapause, insects are in various stages of their lifecycle, whether they be adults hunkering down or pupae in the midst of metamorphosis. To prevent them from hatching or sprouting from their safe cocoons, they must find a safe location to rest until spring when temperatures are steadily above ten degrees Celsius. These temporary habitats are often within the dead leaves found on the ground and hollow stems of flowers and other various plants. With our bustling, always on the move culture, we often overlook these slumbering beauties in order to manicure our lawns and create abundant gardens. Our human activity and busy lifestyles often result in us unintentionally raking away our pollinator friends, bagging them and leaving them on the curb to be whisked away out of sight. But there are ways to avoid this.
In changing our gardening practices to be aware of these snoozing insects, we create the ability to protect them and further extend our knowledge to help others do the same. When we say no to sweeping away leaves in autumn and early spring, even going as far as to use the dead plant debris as mulch, we reduce the risk of raking away butterflies and eggs in the dead foliage. By resisting the urge to trim down the stems of perennials or leaving cut stems instead of discarding them, we give hibernating bees and other pollinators a chance to wake up and assist the living world to pass along pollen and ensure a continual cycle of life. It is important for us to wait until temperatures are steadily above ten degrees celsius to ensure these insects have awakened back into the world to play their role in the food change and continue to provide for life as we know it. With proper techniques and a willingness to learn, we can build towards a sustainable future. Learn more here.
About the Author: Rayna Gilfillan is a free spirited student who currently resides in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends most of her time exploring nature and reveling in the interconnectedness of it all. She hopes to one day travel as an environmental journalist, spreading knowledge about the mysteries of our living world while sucking the marrow out of life. If you wish to read more of her work, she also writes for the AWES blog, https://www.awes-ab.ca/blog/ , an agroforestry company from Edmonton, or you can try to catch one of her educational seminars she hosts for WILDnorth animal rehabilitation centre.