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Bumble Bees Provide Another Reason to NOT Rake Leaves

Fothergilla is an awesome native shrub that has lovely flowers in spring, and GREAT fall color.

Fothergilla is an awesome native shrub that has lovely flowers in spring, and GREAT fall color.

For years now I’ve been proclaiming the many good reasons to stop raking leaves in urban and suburban back yards.

Leaves are the perfect mulch, and can increase the biodiversity of your soil. Leaving your leaves in place helps to provide lots of habitat of insects, which in turn provides lots of food for foraging birds. Leaf collection is also an expensive and energy intensive task that many cities take on each year. Cities that don’t collect or vacuum up leaves often face landfill crowding.  So by not raking you save energy and reduce landfill problems.

Also, I kind of like the way tree roots look when they have a natural, rich carpet of leaves in place all winter.

Those bee-friendly advocates at the Xerces Society and the researchers at Bumble Bee Watch have just given me another good reason to leave my leaves in place.  According to their joint update, sent to my inbox in early October, leaf litter provides a wonderful place for bumble bee queens to winter over. (To find out more about helping bumblebees, check out this publication: http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/BumbleBeeConservationBrochure.pdf)

I would also add that having something in bloom throughout the entire growing season is helpful to many pollinating insects, including bumbles, so don’t be too quick to clean all the flowers out of your garden at the end of the season.

Bumble bees like my African Blue Basil. I also try to plant lots of late blooming natives for the bees.

Bumble bees like my African Blue Basil. I also try to plant lots of late-blooming natives for the bees.

In our yard here near Washington, DC, most of the bees are gone now, but on sunny warm days we are still finding many native species and honey bees busily searching for food on our last remaining aster blossoms.  We’ve also had many bumbles bouncing on the flowers of the basil that keeps on blooming by our backdoor.  Although we’ve had a few frosty mornings already this fall, that basil plant is protected by the porch wall, and warmed by the afternoon sun.  Interestingly, bumbles and most native species are much more resilient in cold, wet weather than the non-native honey bees; so even on a chilly afternoon like the one we are having today, I am finding bumble bees out there. I’m glad to know that my leaf carpets may provide one or two of them a winter retreat.

One Thought on “Bumble Bees Provide Another Reason to NOT Rake Leaves

  1. Quite informative post. Also, very interesting research results. Thank you for sharing.

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