Strategic Garden Cleanup Creates Garden Homes for Pollinators

There are many good reasons to clean up the garden in fall. One is that you may want to impress neighbors, family and friends who come by for trick-or-treating and holiday gatherings with a tidy landscape. Another is that a neat garden in fall means fewer dried plant materials an ember traveling ahead of a wildfire could land on and burn.

Fall cleanup can help reduce next year’s pest problems too. It keeps to a minimum protected places where plant diseases and pest insects can safely overwinter.

While fall cleanup makes sure pest insects are unprotected in the face of frigid temperatures, it leaves beneficial insects stranded without shelter too. Good bugs outnumber the bad; less than 1 percent of insects are pests. And, those pest insects make good food for beneficial bugs gardeners want to keep around. With this in mind, it can be tempting to leave garden litter about so good bugs have help to survive winter.

But, helping beneficial insects this way is a balancing act. If you leave a part of your landscape messy so beneficial insects can overwinter, make sure that part of the yard is far away from your home. This is because defensible space for wildfire protection calls for a lean, clean and green zone within 30 feet of the house.

Also make sure your designated disheveled area is away from places where pest insects like aphids, cabbage loopers and tomato hornworms are a big problem for you.

Good bugs like pollinators thrive on benign neglect. So, once you find the perfect spot for them in the garden, let it go a bit wild. For lazy gardeners, this is a freeing experience. Butterflies will lay eggs in leaf litter, and those of us who never quite seem to get around to cleaning up every rock garden, flower bed, leaf, pine needle or pine cone will be able to use that as our excuse.

The standing dead twigs and stems in my garden are shelter for pollinators, we will say, just like my store-bought bird houses, bat boxes and bee nests are.

In our wild spaces, we can be lax about tilling the soil and covering it to reduce water use, sprouting of weed seeds and erosion. This is because in partially bare soil there is an opportunity for native Nevada bees to create early spring underground nesting sites and find winter shelter.

In our carefully selected, strategically messy and bare garden spaces, the 1,000 native species of ground-nesting, twig-nesting and parasitic bees found in Nevada can have a home this winter. And since bees pollinate the plants that produce one out of every third bite of our food, this could be the beginning of a very productive vegetable gardening relationship come spring.

Learn more at “Bringing beneficial insects to the garden” Sept. 19 and “Strategic garden cleanup” Sept. 21. The classes are part of Grow Your Own, Nevada!, a series of twice-weekly gardening classes held Sept. 19 through Oct. 12. Sign up online at


Ashley Andrews is the horticulture communications assistant with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Horticulture questions? Contact a Master Gardener at or 775-336-0265. Or, visit