FALL CLEANUP? NO WAY! As a wildlife-friendly gardener you are free to enjoy autumn in the garden with little or no guilt about chores left undone. In fall, nature is busy making preparations for winter, and most maintenance chores merely interfere. It's a perfect excuse to find yourself a comfortable perch and enjoy the last warm days and lovely flowers.
Here are a few things the wildlife-friendly gardener does not need to do in fall:
Weeding: Well, ok, you can. But weeding is likely to interfere with the butterflies (or their caterpillars or the chrysalides in which they change from caterpillars into butterflies) you spent the spring and summer trying to attract, so why not put it off?
Cutting back dead stems: A no-no in the wildlife-friendly garden, removing dead stems destroys shelter that various creatures need in winter, as well as food from seed heads.
Raking dead leaves: What? Dead leaves are nature's fertilizer and mulch for trees and shrubs. Why would you take that away? Besides, dead leaves provide cover for spiders and other invertebrates, which birds often rely on for winter food.
Pruning: Once again, you're just removing shelter animals will need during the winter months.
Removing stumps, dead trees, brush, fallen branches and logs, or rocks: See above.
Filling wet spots, alter drainage patterns, divert or impound water, or re-channel streams: In my view, this is a mistake in any season, but you're really asking for trouble if you do this sort of thing going into the wet months.
Anything involving pesticides: Butterflies are insects, too. Anything you do to kill insects in the garden may very well kill butterflies, or their caterpillars, including use of Bt. Besides, birds need insects for food.
Mowing the lawn: If you have a lawn, you must mow it. But that, in my view, is a good reason to not have one. If that's too radical a suggestion, at least for now, do keep in mind that mowing can kill snakes, frogs, and other creatures that might be hiding there. The caterpillars of many skippers feed on grasses, for example. So consider letting your grass stay as long as possible.
What can you do? As the days grow short, we say goodbye to many garden friends. Some, like chipmunks, will probably be back again in spring. Others, like almost all the bumblebees, will die come first frost. For me, this is an ideal season for reflection. This is a good time to recall that nothing is perfect, or should be. The wildlife-friendly garden may not be perfect in the sense of “perfectly tidy,” but it offers abundant beauty. There is the glimpse of deep red Clematis "Niobe" blooms glowing in a patch of sunlight the plant has twined upward to reach. There is the joy of seeing a red-striped garter snake sunning on a gravel path, or hearing the flutter of a small brown wren searching for insects in a pile of brush. There is the freedom that comes with giving up ideas about how things should be and learning, instead, to enjoy them as they are.