Fall yard cleanup bad for bees, warns apiarist

A local apiarist is encouraging people to skip major yard cleanups this fall for the sake of bee health. Erica Shelley says people unwittingly destroy important bee habitats when they rake leaves and clean away dead wood.
Leave those leaves where they are, says beekeeper Erica Shelley. Solitary bees embed their larvae in the ground and raking leaves can harm their chance of surviving over winter. (Contributed by Erica Shelley)

A local apiarist is encouraging people to skip major yard cleanups this fall for the sake of bee health.

Bee expert Erica Shelley says people unwittingly destroy important bee habitats when they rake leaves and clean away dead wood. 

While honeybee colonies overwinter in their hives, solitary bees don't survive the winter months and bury their larvae in the ground or in the hollows of branches. When spring arrives and temperatures warm up, the new insects know it's time to emerge, says Shelley. 

"If people are throwing out their dead wood, rototilling their gardens and throwing down mulch in the spring, then they actually can't emerge," she said.

Hereare Shelley's three tips for keeping your yard tidy and preserving bee habitats:

  1. If you want to trim back hollow-stemmed plants, like raspberry bushes, cut them down but don't compost them. Put them in a pile and wait until spring. Most bee larvae will emerge by mid-May. Then take to the curb. 
  2. Rake lightly. If you rake deeply or rototill your soil, you're disrupting ground larvae.
  3. Even better: leave the leaves on the ground until spring time. Most will break down by then. "Leaves are the nutrients for our soil," says Shelley. If you find the leaves unsightly, gather them up and use them to insulate the roots in your garden beds. Just don't pile too deeply or those larvae won't be able to emerge.

 

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