As temperatures fall and plants begin to go dormant, the natural inclination is to trim up bare stems and old flower heads. But consider leaving a little clutter in your yard. It can provide much needed cover and food for beneficial wildlife.
Many butterfly species overwinter in Texas as pupae. The last generation of swallowtails, for example, feed and store energy the end of summer as caterpillars. They find a sturdy stem to attach to and then transform into a chrysalis that looks like a folded leaf or a bit of twig. When warm weather and flowers return in the spring, the butterfly emerges ready to brighten your garden. Other species hide from the cold as adults in leaf litter, chucks of bark or old plant stems. Regardless of what life stage they are in, butterflies benefit from a little extra plant material during the winter.
Many people build special houses to attract native bees. But where did these important pollinators live before people built bee boxes? You guessed it — in the hollow stems of withered plants. The dead or dormant stems of pithy plants like sunflowers, sumac or even hydrangea serve as great homes for these imperiled and important insects.
Birds will also benefit from a little extra clutter in your garden. Old flowers turn into energy-packed seed heads for migrating and resident birds. Consider holding off on dead heading your perennials or removing annuals. See if you notice a more active bird scene in your backyard this winter.
When you do prune your plants, what you do with the yard waste can be just as important for wildlife. If you have an out of sight location, you could build a brush pile with the trimmings. Brush piles provide many of the same over-wintering benefits for butterflies and in the summer make for great habitat for lizards and birds.
With a few easy changes to the way you maintain your landscape this winter, you can create little spaces for wildlife and help protect the other residents that call Texas home.
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Cleveland Powell is a conservation consultant for SAWS. He is enthusiastic about grass taxonomy and milkweed propagation. In his free time, Powell enjoys hiking around area parks in search of intriguing bugs, birds and plants.
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