As my fifth year as a messy gardener approaches, I reflect on all I have learned and the small difference I believe I have made for our local birds and pollinators. In addition, I no longer find myself dreading fall and the looming yard work ahead.
I am sure many of you are scratching your heads and asking, “What is a messy gardener, and how can that possibly help birds and pollinators?”
A messy gardener does not cut back all the dead flower heads or cut down stems and stalks. A messy gardener would also let native leaves winter over. (Please note that nonnative leaves, such as the leaves of the invasive Norway maple, should be removed, because they will suffocate your plants, clover and, in some cases, the pollinators we are hoping to help.) Basically, you reduce your fall cleanup by up to 90 percent.
More importantly, migrating birds will stop to feed on seeds and bugs in your fall garden. Over the winter months, many birds who don’t fly south will enjoy the remaining seeds and the occasional bug discovered in leaf litter and/or a hollow stem.
Your messy garden is also providing safe habitat for bees, spiders, many moths, some bats, snails and many additional arthropods.
Messy gardeners do not use herbicides, insecticides, even organics, because they may kill both the undesirables — ticks and mosquitoes — as well as some pollinators.
Loss of pollinators impacts our food supply. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce. More than 3,500 species of native bees help increase crop yields.”
Do your part — be a messy gardener. Plant natives, and don’t spray or treat your garden with insecticide or herbicides. You will be helping the pollinators, the birds and our food supply.
Melissa Morgan Nelson
Westhampton Garden Club
One fine body…