What to do in Winter

As the days get colder, you may be looking out the window at your garden, and wondering what can be done to a pollinator garden in winter?

Well, this time of year provides an excellent opportunity to think about how your garden provides for those pollinator species who need a place to overwinter.  Bees and some species of butterflies that do not migrate, need areas in which they can spend the cold months, waiting for the warm days of spring to arrive. Understanding the different needs of these two important pollinators is the first step in providing a garden that allows for these species to stay and overwinter.

For bees, the good news is, if you are already providing nesting structures to accommodate pupation, you are already providing areas for overwintering as well, as most species do not require different habitats. For example, an adult carpenter bee returns to its larval tunnels and the end of spring, and stays through winter. In contrast female bumblebees will not hibernate in their original cells, instead the queen buries herself beneath leaf litter or debris.

For your garden it is then encouraged to allow for small areas to house leaf litter piles, thatch piles or grass clippings. Remember, the best and most usable pollinator gardens are those that resemble wild, natural habitats, so don’t be too neat! Also, if you haven’t already, start implementing some ideas for providing shelter and nesting sites, they can double as overwintering sites for most species, like the carpenter bee.

Unlike bees, most butterflies have different habitat requirements in summer and winter. Species that pupate during winter do so in cocoons, underground, or in a hard chrysalis.  For your pollinated garden to support butterflies during the colder months, the physical structure of the environment is far more important than the  actual plant species available.   Tall grasses, bushes, trees, old fence posts, and piles of leaves and sticks will provide good overwintering sites for butterflies.

Again, small amounts of general garden debris may not be desirable for a heavily manicured formal garden, but is just perfect for a pollinator garden! A good rule of thumb is if you know that some of the species that you spot in spring may also overwinter in specific areas of your garden, keep these areas undisturbed throughout the winter.

There are several more detailed ideas presented here about cultivating nesting and overwintering sites for native bee and butterfly species through the use of natural garden elements and artificial structures .

If you are encouraged to start implementing some new ideas this winter, at the end of the coming spring, you will have some pretty happy tenants who may just want to extend their lease….. long term.