By KD Angle-Traegner, Founder & Editor
“No winter lasts forever, no spring skips its turn.” – Hal Borland
Are you as ready for spring as much as I am? I live in Ohio—where the weather has the temperament of a devilishly wicked child—and where the winters seem to last for eternity. By the time spring does get here, I’m more than ready for the cold weather to be over. According to The Farmer’s Almanac, spring has officially begun. This past week I’ve started to see the first signs of it popping up all around me. The robins have returned, the flowers have started pushing themselves up out of the ground, and the warm weather has melted the snow.
I admit, the pretty weather has given me an itch to get out and spring clean the garden. I love the feel of soil in my hands and the sun on my back. But I’m going to have to wait before getting my gardening gloves dirty, and you should too. That’s right, you get to not do chores and it’s a good thing. You’re welcome.
Here are three reasons why you should put off spring cleaning your garden.
1. It could snow again (sigh)
Remember how I told you that Ohio’s weather is a little temperamental? This is my polite way of saying that the weather here sucks. Just because it’s spring doesn’t mean it won’t snow here again, or anywhere in the northern half of the US for that matter. I know, I don’t like it either, but it’s true.
Snow means cold and cold can mean some bad things for even cold-tolerant plants. Many plants have hollow stems. If water were to get down toward the bottom of the stem or stalk, it could freeze the center of the plant and the plant could die. You should avoid cutting the sealed cover of a hollow stems until after the final frost.
2. There’s life in the litter
By now you know that veganism extends beyond our plates, but did you know it extends to our leaf litter and other plant matter too? It does! Remember those hollow stems I mentioned? Native bees use hollow stems to lay eggs in the summer or fall. After they emerge the eggs, they’re resting adults just waiting to come out in mid- to late spring. Exposing these new bees to temperamental weather can do them great harm.
Bees aren’t the only ones in the litter, either. Butterflies, moths, and spiders could be in the soil or hiding out just under top layer the leaf litter. Not to mention, since at any given time there are ten quintillion insects alive, there’s bound to be quite a few of them hiding out in the natural detritus of the yard or garden. All of these insects are a necessary and beneficial part to the natural environment of your area; you don’t want to walk on them or accidentally kill them.
3. You’ll be helping birds and other small animals
Hopefully, you left the old flowering heads of perennial flowers, ornamental grasses, and autumn’s fallen leaves in your garden to provide food and shelter for animals throughout the winter. Resist the urge to cut these things down and remove them when the first of the warm days start to appear. Ornamental grasses, for example, can be left up well into May, since they don’t emerge until June anyway.
Squirrels will use leaf litter to build a nest or rebuild an existing one. Rabbits use leaves and grasses to line the inside of their burrows. Leaving natural detritus gives birds and other small animals ample access to the nesting materials they need to build a safe home for the spring breeding season. It also gives you more time to do things you love to do.
Here’s What to Do Instead
Listen, I know I said you didn’t have to spring clean your yard, but I didn’t say ever, I said put off. You’re still going to have to clean up your yard. I hear you, owning a home and caring for a yard is work, but it’s the rewarding kind. Having a yard that is friendly for the local free-living animals in your area is an import part of vegan advocacy. Birds, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, beetles and bees—they all need your help.
Related Reading: How to Plant a Pollinator-Friendly Garden
Wait to start your spring clean-up until the soil is dry. Avoid working with wet soil, especially clay soil, trampling around in a wet garden will only compact the soil.
Follow this calendar to get the maximum benefit for animals and health of your garden (find your plant hardiness zone):
- Zone 7 or warmer: Wait until March 15
- Zone 6: Wait until April 1
- Zone 5: Wait until April 15 or later
- Zone 4: Wait until May 1 or later
- Zone 3 or colder: Wait until May 15 or later
Long, hard and frigid winters with lots of snow can wreck havoc on a garden. Plants can break, trees can lose limbs, leaves can become matted and prevent early spring wildflowers from emerging. What I like to do is grab a small rake and gently give the leaves a stir to loosen them- but not before it’s time!
Have patience. Take advantage of all your new free time. The animals will certainly thank you.