My friend, Master Gardener Cheryl Gresham, wrote last week about pollinators, cautioning gardeners about the importance of not being as tidy when we ready the garden for winter. I’m going to expand on Cheryl’s idea.
Of the native bees, about 30% continue their life cycle in the hollow stems of plants. Female bees lay their eggs singly in a bundle of pollen (called “bread”) she collects, walling off each egg/bread combination with bits of leaves, and then laying the next egg. Multiple eggs will be laid in a single stem this way, creating a shelter and food source for each egg as it hatches and the larva develops.
Tidy gardeners, wanting a jump on spring’s clean slate, can put these native pollinators in danger by removing stems of ornamental grasses, perennials and some shrubs in the fall. The material ends up in the compost pile, or worse, exposing eggs to winter conditions and death. When in doubt, cut off a stem of whatever you’re removing—if the stem is hollow, chances are a native bee is taking advantage of it and these should be left in place.
Wait to clean up the garden, cutting back the hollow-stemmed plants in mid to late April. This gives the pollinators time to emerge and go on their merry way.
Pollinators pollinate–they do this with no training or high-tech equipment, and… they do it for free! So if there is something simple we can do to help them out, why not?