Helping Winter Pollinators: What You Can Do

You see them buzzing around all spring and summer; the birds and insects that act as our pollinators. From giant lumbering bumblebees to tiny flies and beetles, these tireless workers spend the growing season moving pollen from one plant to another as they feed on the pollen and nectar. They are the reason we have flowering plants and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. 

You already know that planting pollinator-friendly flowering plants during spring and summer helps these tiny creatures, but is there anything you can do for them in the winter? Yes, there is. 

As it turns out, having a messy winter yard is a great help to pollinators. 

Planting fall-friendly flowers—such as late-blooming aster, sedum—or even allowing goldenrod (often considered a weed) to remain in your garden can help these pollinators fatten up for the winter before they set in to hibernate. The dead husks of these plants also provide great hiding places for these insects through the winter, so consider waiting until spring to cut them down. 

Many of our native pollinators overwinter in leaf litter and deadwood that collects in your yard during the fall. Native bees make their nests in undisturbed soil, while bumble and other larger bee species look for nooks and crannies in bark, or holes made in trees by beetle larvae the previous season. If there’s a dry, sunny spot in your yard with exposed soil you may even see little mounds that look like anthills, which are actually bee nests. 

Even butterflies such as Tiger Swallowtails and certain moths use leaf litter and other plant matter to endure the winter. The list of insects that depend on leaf litter and decaying matter in your yard is almost endless, and the work they do for us is irreplaceable. So if you have a messy garden this winter, congratulations! You’re already doing your part for the pollinators in your life. If you haven’t, don’t worry, just plant lots of flowering plants this spring and consider leaving them be next fall. It’s never too late to help out our insect helpers.