Is That a Leaf or Chrysalis?
Updated: Nov 25, 2020
OR Please Don't Cut Down Your Plants in the Fall!
One of the golden rules of nurturing native nature is the same as the golden rule in the medical profession: do no harm. This includes not cutting plants to the ground or pulling them up once they're done blooming. Native plants have value at every stage of growth, not just when they’re flowering.
A quarter of our native bees pollinate native flowers during the growing season then nest in the hollow stems of some of the very same plants in the spring. If we remove the stems in the fall when they turn brown, we’re destroying the bee’s spring habitat.
When migrating and overwintering birds see a tangle of brown stems and stalks in a richly textured "messy" landscape they know they'll find seed heads rich in much needed fat, a safe cover to forage and for ground nesting birds, a place to nest in the spring. A barren landscape with a "clean" carpet of dirt offers them nothing.
As native perennial plants die back, fall to the ground, and decompose over the winter, they add a layer of nutrient rich fertilizer to the soil which is needed for new growth in the spring. The organic matter also increases the water holding capacity of the soil to prevent the kind of runoff problems naked dirt creates.
In early fall what looks like brown, shriveled up leaves may on closer inspection be a butterfly or moth chrysalis getting ready to hatch. Some chrysalises also overwinter on plants. To cut down the world of dying brown perennials in the fall would be to imperil the continued existence of moths and butterflies, Since I want to nurture even the creatures I can’t see in my yard, I intentionally err on the side of benign neglect when it comes to fall “clean up”.