Everyone is waiting for good weather to get out and work in the yard. We look longingly out the window only to see rotting leaves, debris, and dead plant stems. It may look unsightly to us but there are hundreds of insects in those leaves and stems. Our yards are their cozy winter beds and nurseries. Unlike us, they cannot come out yet. They have not matured. Most can only start coming out when the weather warms to a consistent 50 degrees. That will not happen until about mid-April. But, why should we care? After all not many people really like bugs. They are annoying, they get into our houses, they eat our plants, and they may even bite us. In reality, insects are critical to the environment, and the environment is critical to us.
Why are insects important? What do bugs do anyway? They do lots of wonderful, important tasks.
They pollinate: Most of us know that pollinators are important for the growth of flowers, vegetables and fruits. We need them for our food supply. Pollinators are more than the bees we see in yards or in large hives. They can be bees, butterflies, ants, moths, beetles, birds and even bats.
They are scavengers: Think of them as ground composters. They are removing dead plant and animal material from the environment preventing a serious mess.
They are food: Insects are a critical food source for birds, frogs, turtles and reptiles. Think spring when birds are searching for bugs in the debris to feed their babies.
Some kill bad bugs: Beneficial insects are critical to growers to fight the bugs that eat crops.
They move seeds: Many plants depend on insects to scatter their seeds so they can disperse and grow.
Without insects, the balance of nature would collapse. Biologists and others are concerned because their numbers are dropping worldwide due to habitat loss.
We can help our insect friends by creating a healthy habitat in our yards. Allow a small patch of “weedy” plants to grow for them to rest and feed. Beneficial insects love herbs that have gone to flower. Grow pollinator friendly native plants in every season. Maintain a brush pile for them to hide and lay eggs. Leave a few areas of bare soil for ground bees to make their homes underground. Put out a shallow dish of water. Let some leaves remain on the ground in the fall along with uncut plant stems for native bee nurseries. Wait until warm weather to clean up. Let some leaves stay in the beds.
In a well-balanced yard, the bugs work out problems among themselves so you will not have to intervene very often. No pesticides needed. Spiders and lightening bugs catch mosquitoes, pollinators help make flowers, pill bugs and wasps eat dead debris. Ladybugs, predatory beetles, and other beneficials kill harmful insects in the vegetable garden. These tiny, mighty creatures need our protection. That means preserving their habitats all year. So let them sleep for now.
Author: Kelly Butauski, Friends of Euclid Creek Member