Save the stems!

Brilliant flowers that provide food for butterflies in the summer serve another purpose in the winter – dead stems are a place of refuge for insects from the cold and a source of food for the songbirds.

(Posted March 13, 2023)

As the days begin to get warmer, the urge to get outside and do some landscaping becomes stronger. But this year, pause when you get to the gardens and flowerbeds. Removing dead stems, leaves, and other plant debris from your yard can be detrimental to pollinators and other beneficial insects.

The availability of nesting and overwintering habitat is one of the most important factors influencing populations of native bees and other beneficial insects. Some species of native wild bees nest in dead stems, so cutting down and disposing of these stems before the bees emerge in the spring will reduce their population. Dead leaves and other plant debris on the ground provide shelter for beneficial insects like lady beetles, butterflies, moths, fireflies, and ground beetles. Pristinely raked garden beds remove this shelter and reduce their chance for survival.

Diversity is key in providing overwintering habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects. Leaf litter, bare ground, mulch, and grass all provide distinct habitats that allow the overwintering of pollinators and beneficial insects. Waiting until late spring to do yard clean up, when the days are consistently in the 50s, will give native bees and butterflies enough time to emerge and find shelter elsewhere.

Traditional landscaping practices rarely leave enough natural resources to support pollinators and other wildlife. Artificial nesting options such as bee blocks and bee hotels do not provide as many conservation benefits as natural nesting habitat features. An appropriately managed wildflower planting provides: nesting sites, pollen, and nectar for bees; host plants and overwintering habitat for butterflies; and abundant food for songbirds, who need insects to feed their young.

The mission of the Madison Soil & Water Conservation District is to enhance and sustain the soil, water, and related natural resources of Madison County through partnerships with others to provide research-based educational programs, technical assistance, and funding to promote a clean local environment. Information about our services, conserving natural resources, and events is available at

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