Protecting Beneficial Insects in Winter

As the temperature drops, everyone – including the crawling things that live outside – tries to seek a little warmth.  That’s right – we’re talking about bugs.

Bugs?  Who needs ‘em?  You do. Your yard does. There are a lot of beneficial insects out there whose job it is to help keep your yard safe, pretty, and free of pests. If you get rid of these beneficial bugs, you’ll be robbing yourself of some free and industrious helpers.  

During the fall, you might be tempted – as we all are – to clean up all the leaves and yard debris that falls from your trees.  After all, the American dream is a pristine putting green lawn, is it not?

It is not.  Well, at least it shouldn’t be.  If you eliminate everything but a gorgeously sparkling lawn, you’re going to be killing or evicting thousands of little critters that like to burrow and find warmth in that loose brush and those leaf piles.  

What Is A Beneficial Insect?

First things first: What’s a beneficial insect?  A beneficial insect is a good bug that helps take care of bad bugs.  For example, garden spiders eat mosquitoes and other pests.  Ladybugs prey on whiteflies, mites, potato beetles, and aphids, among others.  Praying mantises can eat moths, beetles, and gnats.  Green lacewings enjoy supping on aphids, whiteflies, leafhoppers, and mealybugs.  And then of course there are the pollinators: bees, butterflies, and the like.  Without the pollinators, plants simply can’t reproduce.  

Nature is pretty amazing, right?  Without having to lift a finger or douse your yard in harsh chemicals, you’ve got thousands of little helpers keeping your yard healthy and green.  Not to mention that the harsh chemical pesticides will kill your good bugs along with your bad ones – and they’re not great for your health either.  

These beneficial critters will take care of your yard year-round, if you take care of them. That means not calling the pest control company.  Here are some tips on how to care for your beneficial insects in the winter.

Keep Your Yard Natural

Rule one in keeping beneficial insects: stay away from harsh chemical insecticides.  Not only will these kill the good and bad bugs equally, but they’ll also leave your yard a toxic dump instead of the kind of thriving ecosystem you surely want.

Also, don’t try to maintain a golf course in your backyard.  Pristine, short grass may be the standard set by American suburban development, but it’s neither a natural nor a healthy way to keep a yard.  Beneficial weeds like white clover and dandelions can help to fertilize the soil.  Crow garlic can help your beneficial insect friends control pests.  These plants have a smell that either repels pests or masks the smell of other plants that the pests want to eat.  And some weeds even attract and provide a habitat for the kind of beneficial insects you want in your yard.  

Once you’ve established a more natural yard that will allow your beneficial insect friends to thrive, it’s important to maintain that natural yard during the winter, when everything and everyone is seeking shelter from the cold.  The rules are the same, however: stay away from the toxic pesticides, and keep your yard natural.  Resist the urge to rake up every last leaf.  Don’t clear all the brush that fell off your tree.  Stop mowing (if you were still mowing in the winter).  If you’ve got tall plants or some scraggly weeds, leave them alone – they’ll provide birds with winter foraging material, and if you leave a pile of mulch or yard clippings in your yard, bees will burrow in there and be protected from the cold.  Plus, those clippings will turn to compost over the winter, which is a bonus.

But Not Everything Should Be Left Alone

There are a few exceptions to the “leave it alone” philosophy you should adopt to protect your beneficial insect friends.  If you have fruit trees, you need to rake up those leaves pretty thoroughly.  The leaves of some fruit trees have properties that can harm insects that want to burrow in your yard for the winter.  Most other kinds of leaves, especially oak and maple, will help provide food and protection to your beneficial insects, but fruit trees not so much.  

Be Proactive – Winter Plants

If you really want to attract beneficial insects to your yard, add some winter plants to your foliage.  If you’re in a warmer climate where flowering plants can thrive in winter, those plants can help provide a lifeline to any bees or other insects that venture out during the cold months.  Mild winter plants can include rosemary, crocus, hyacinth, and others.  If you’ve got the climate for it, planting these can really help your beneficial insects.  And if you’re in a colder climate, look for plants that will grow in winter in your hardiness zone.  Even a minimal investment in winter foliage will really help you protect those good bugs, so they can get to work in the spring and start pollinating and eating the bad bugs.  

The American suburban dream is a short, green lawn with minimal ornamentation.  A putting green.  But to get that, you need a lot of help from harsh chemicals and a lot of unnecessary labor – labor that could be alleviated by the kinds of beneficial bugs that just can’t live in a putting green.  Let your yard get a little raggedy, especially in winter, and you’ll find that in spring, you’ve got a whole army of little critters that will build for you a natural, beautiful yard that you can be proud of.   

Help Keep Big Easy Magazine Alive

Hey guys!

Covid-19 is challenging the way we conduct business. As small businesses suffer economic losses, they aren’t able to spend money advertising.

Please donate today to help us sustain local independent journalism and allow us to continue to offer subscription-free coverage of progressive issues.

Thank you,
Scott Ploof
Big Easy Magazine

Share this Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *