If you have not already done so, it’s time to prepare your garden and yard for winter. Does this mean cleaning it up entirely? No, please don’t.

Remember to leave some plant material to feed and shelter beneficial insects. Even small amounts of seeds and brush will help beneficial insects survive the cold, wet months. The beneficial insects will thank you — and so will your garden.


Rake and dispose of leaves from fruit trees, especially if they have scab or other fungus growing on the fruit. Rarely does home compost get hot enough to kill the fungus spores, so burn diseased leaves (if it is legal in your area) or send them to a yard waste facility. Large commercial compost piles are managed so they reach optimal temperatures for killing spores.

Rake and compost other leaves, as those from maple trees. They make good cover on flower beds to suppress winter annuals like shotweed (aka bittercress).

Leaf litter is mulch that provides hiding places and food for your beneficial insects including ground beetles, centipedes, millipedes, pill bugs and spiders. These helpful creatures will break down and add organics to your soil.


Leave healthy standing plants with their seeds to provide birds with winter foraging. Have too many? Make a pile of brush or two for hiding places.

Your overwintering queen bumblebees and wasps need a warmer place to get out of the winter weather. Wait until spring to trim those ornamental grasses. That little haystack may be just the place she has chosen to burrow.


Your lot should have a relatively undisturbed place with food, water and shelter for wildlife. A few rocks, pieces of wood and even some bare soil in protected areas provide hiding places. The queens of some of our native bees nest underground in abandoned holes — the worker bees die off and so do not overwinter.


Dried mowed grass from your lawn clippings also makes a great hiding place for beneficial insects. Pile it in your waste area or at the back of a garden bed. The grass will compost over the winter to be mixed with other ‘leavings’ for your beds in the spring. However, don’t keep it if you have used Weed and Feed on your lawn. The herbicide (aka weed killer) portion may take a while to break down.

One by-product of 2,4-D production (the herbicide in Weed and Feed) is dioxin. It may only be a small amount, but with our rainy climate, it can easily end up in Puget Sound. It is toxic to fish and mildly toxic to Dungeness crab.

Dioxin has been found in groundwater in five states, and is present in surface water throughout the U.S.

Your best lawn fertilizer is a mulching lawn mower, which chops up grass clippings and returns it to feed and mulch your lawn. Before heading into winter, set your blade a little higher for your last mowing. Tolerate a few dandelions or some clover. Bees and parasitic wasps love the nectar.

After building a nest and raising a family, a wasp needs a brush or grass pile for winter shelter. Garden spiders catch mosquitoes and other harmful insects. Keep them around by providing safe hiding places for their egg sacks.


Sparkling, colorful traps lure wasps and other beneficial insects in from your garden, depriving you of the benefits of their labors. Wasps are beneficial insects. They prey on insect larvae and adults, and they pollinate flowers.

If you watch, you can see wasps landing on leaves, then searching under them, looking for insect eggs, aphids, spiders or caterpillars to ambush. If you miss having a colorful wasp trap in your yard, buy a glass ball or other ornament. When you kill a beneficial insect, you inherit its work.

If wasps are by your door, or you are highly allergic to their sting, you have cause for concern.

You may need to take selective action by removing them from your personal space, or use another door until they are gone for the winter.

After frost is also a good time to remove those empty wasp or hornet nests. Most times you don’t even know the nests are there, until the leaves fall or the wind blows them down. The queen is hiding somewhere else waiting for spring. Take care of them — we want them back.


Don’t use those bug “zappers.” They lure night-flying insects to their light and incinerate them. The zappers are indiscriminate killers, depleting our precious pollinator population. They also deprive our birds and bats of an important food source.


Enhance your garden with native plants for winter greenery, fall colors and early spring flowers. Salal, Oregon grape and vine maple are popular additions. Hellebores like Lenten rose, sage, and heathers also stay green all winter. They provide late-winter flowers for your garden’s beauty, and nectar for birds and insects.

Try to have a variety of plants that sequentially flower over many months, so our bumblebees, wasps and Anna’s hummingbirds can find some “real” nectar if they come out on a warm winter’s day. And planting cover crops, like crimson clover or Austrian field peas, provides insect habitat while protecting and feeding your garden soil.

Don’t do too good of a job cleaning your garden or yard this fall — leave plant material and grass piles for good insects to hide in.

— Virgene Link-New is a WSU/Skagit County master gardener. Questions about home gardening or becoming a master gardener, may be directed to: WSU Extension Office, 11768 Westar Lane, Suite A, Burlington, WA 98233; by phone: 360-428-4270; or via the website: www.skagit.wsu.edu/mg.

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