How-to for beginner gardeners with Shannon Hunt.
Before you leap into your garden to get down and dirty removing dead, dying, diseased and straggly plants, survey what could be useful for the insects that are beneficial to our gardens. Plants that are still flowering are an important nectar source for those bees that pop out of the hive occasionally and insects that have not hibernated yet. By creating or leaving plenty of hiding places in your garden over the colder months, you will help insects to survive.
Flowers for nectar
Bees and insects gather nectar from autumn flowers like pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis). These little orange and yellow rays of sunshine are easy to grow throughout the year and can continue to flower through the autumn and winter months. If you watch a bunch of marigolds for a while, you may yet see a bee settling on the flowers!
If you want to help bees even more, consider planting camellias. Choose the single-petalled open varieties, such as Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’ and C. × vernalis ‘Yuletide’, as the pollen-filled centres of their blooms are more easily accessed by bees than the tighter, multi-petal varieties.
If you are planning on planting a flowering bush to help feed the insects over the colder period, Forsythia will do the trick nicely, too.
Create a habitat
Placing pieces of driftwood, rotting wood, big rocks, old baked bean and spaghetti cans, and broken terracotta pots strategically throughout your garden creates plenty of cracks, crevices and protective spaces for good bugs and insects to retreat and sleep over the colder months. These include ladybirds, bees, dragonflies and lacewings, which not only prey on leaf-chomping insects in the warmer weather but also play their part in pollinating your vegetables, ornamentals and blossoms.
Leave the weeds
While you may like your flower and vegetable gardens to be manicured and weed-free (if only because it is easier to manage), there is a lot to be said for leaving a small patch of your property to grow long grasses and weeds so our helpful insects can lay their eggs and shelter in it.
It can also be advantageous to your garden to create a mound made of criss-crossed pruned branches, dry leaves, sawdust and soil (to a height of at least 1m) to harbour hibernating insects. When spring arrives, there will be a hungry army of them born with voracious appetites.
To beautify your mound, throw a handful of poppy, marigold and nasturtium seeds over it in the early stages of spring – a beautiful burst of flowers will later appear.
This type of mound is also known as a hügelkultur and is believed to have been an important part of gardening in Germany and Eastern European regions for centuries. It is not only a great way to take care of hibernating insects, but a brilliant way to recycle your pruning offcuts.
Delay the chop
If you have bushes and trees that could aesthetically do with a prune this month, consider leaving all or some of them unpruned until spring has set in. Beneficial insects can often be found hibernating under the leaves and branches of such vegetation and it is a shame to destroy them.
Ladybirds dwell here
Did you know that ladybirds, both red spotted and metallic blue, can chomp into 5000 aphids over their lifetime? When the colder months come along they can seek out warm places like your garage or shed to hibernate in, so be careful not to disturb or destroy them.
Leave the Leaves
If you can, leave an area of fallen leaves on your property untouched so helpful insects in the garden can lay their eggs and feed on the foliage as it breaks down. However, it is best to remove fallen leaves from your lawn and planted areas because a carpet of fallen leaves may stop the sun from doing its important photosynthesis job during winter, when plants and lawns need as much sun as they can get.