You know that voice in your head that’s always nagging and never satisfied? It’s the one reminding you to make your bed because, God forbid, the burglars find a mess of blankets and sheets when they break into your house in the middle of the day. The voice reminds you to put on a jacket and bring an umbrella in case it rains. It wonders why you haven’t emptied the dishwasher yet and if you know how many added teaspoons of sugar are in that slice of birthday cake. The voice speaks with authority, like a bossy know-it-all on the kindergarten playground. It thinks that it knows everything, but sometimes the voice is wrong.
First of all, it turns out that people don’t melt in the rain. In fact, it’s perfectly possible to walk outside in the pouring rain and have nothing bad happen at all. While you’re out there with the rain falling and your hair getting wet, you might even notice that the frogs are croaking and the frozen ground is melting and that each little raindrop creates a perfect circle as it hits the water in a puddle at your feet.
Second of all, it seems that nature doesn’t appreciate all the tidiness we constantly try to impose upon her. She wants you to leave the garden beds unmade for a few more weeks and she’d rather if you didn’t fuss about picking up every dead log in your yard. She keeps trying to hide her bird nests, frog eggs, and sleeping bees but she’s running out of places to do so.
In these early weeks of spring, many pollinators and beneficial insects are still in diapause (insect hibernation), which means the adults and pupae are sleeping underneath leaf litter and inside of dead plant stems. Waiting until the daytime temperatures are consistently above 50° will give these insects a chance to emerge before their winter homes are cast away. If your inner voice just can’t bear to see the garden continue to look messy, you can follow the advice of horticulturalist Jessica Walliser, who is author of the Savvy Gardening blog. If you simply must cut down those dead plants this minute, she recommends that you spread the stems out at the edge of the woods or tie them into small bundles and hang them from a fence or tree so that insects can emerge when they are ready. Wait as long as possible to rake leaves out of your perennial beds as well.
If you’re tempted to start pruning trees and shrubs in your yard, you might want to ignore that impulse as well. The entire state of Minnesota is currently at high risk for spreading oak wilt, a fungal disease that kills thousands of trees each year. Don’t prune oaks while the risk level is safe again and be careful not to wound oak trees by doing construction or digging projects nearby. Be careful pruning woody perennials and shrubs during the spring as well, as they may have cocoons and chrysalises on their branches at this time of year.
What about the standing dead trees in your woods or the fallen snag on the shore of your lake? If they don’t pose a safety hazard, it’s good to leave those alone as well. Woodpeckers, owls and songbirds will nest in the hollows of dead trees, and the fallen snags along the water’s edge protect the shoreline against erosion and give frogs and fish a safe place to lay eggs.
If you’re like me, the daily list of things to do is ever growing. This week, I’m giving you permission to cross a few things off that list. There will be time next month to rake the leaves and tidy up the gardens. In the meantime, let your hair down, leave the garden beds unmade, and go walking in the rain.