Home garden growing season is over, but your backyard plants still have a bounty to offer.

That’s good news for gardeners who want to save some time and effort by not clearing old plants and leaves from their garden. It’s better news for butterflies, moths, bees, toads, spiders and other pollinators that need your plants for the winter for shelter, forage and habitat.

Keep a healthy stock of stalks standing in your garden.

Of the hundreds of native Minnesota bee species, many are solitary and don’t live in large colonies. Those bees, such as mason bees, leafcutter bees and others, nest in dead plant stalks for the winter, according to Jeffrey Hahn, University of Minnesota Extension entomologist.

Stalks also provide building material for other bees' and pollinators’ winter nests.

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Try to leave 12 to 15 inches of stalk stubble in your garden well into spring for these garden helpers.

Don’t be anxious to tear them down in the spring, either. Space under deadhead flowers gives butterflies a place to lay eggs in the early spring. Give your winter tenants time and warm weather to emerge and build their summer habitat.

Snow collects on a rooftop garden in downtown Rochester Tuesday. (John Molseed/jmolseed@postbulletin.com)
Snow collects on a rooftop garden in downtown Rochester Tuesday. (John Molseed/jmolseed@postbulletin.com)

Along with stalks, plant and leaf debris, and mulch, small bare patches of dirt also provide habitat, food and insulation for nesting pollinators and beneficial spiders.

Mulch can protect roots of perennial plants from harsh winter temperatures. Some insects will lay eggs in insulated mulch. However, there's no need to cover every inch of your garden.

Leaving some areas of bare ground in your garden can benefit bumblebees, which hibernate in underground burrows. When they emerge in the spring, the queen will construct a new ground nest nearby, providing your garden with a new generation of helpful pollinators. Piling thick layers of mulch over the entire garden could prevent the queen bumblebee from building a ground nest in or near your garden.

Birds, which can help keep your ground fertile, will pass over a bare spot. Providing a textured spot that could promise seeds helps feed them in the winter and can provide small pockets of natural fertilizer to your soil.

So don’t stress if you didn’t get your garden cleared before the first snowfall this year. You’re doing next year’s garden a favor and providing habitat and shelter for the pollinators that will help it thrive.

John Molseed is a tree-hugging Minnesota transplant making his way through his state parks passport. This column is a space for stories of people doing their part (and more) to keep Minnesota green. Send questions, comments and suggestions to life@postbulletin.com.