The first frost has come and gone in many areas, leaving in its sparkling wake the next phase of gardening: the withering. As the plant leaves fade from green to brown, gardeners head out with their shearers and pruners to trim down, mulch, rake, and haul off what remains of summer’s brilliance to help gardens better prepare for the winter.

But do they really need our help?

There is a new “messy garden” movement taking hold across gardens of North America that suggests Mother Nature may know exactly what she’s doing, and she can do it on her own—if we only let her. And here are five reasons why we should.

Bees And Butterflies LOVE A messy garden.

No matter what you’ve heard about the declining native bee population, the truth is these bicolor pollinators are an important part of our ecosystem. To survive the winter, native bees need a safe, warm place to hunker down. By nestling into native flower stems, grasses, and peeling tree bark, these bees ensure the next generation lives to pollinate another season. Because some native bees place their eggs and larva in the soil during the down season, it’s also important to leave some dirt unmulched for easy access.

The same goes for the butterflies. Several native butterflies overwinter up north as adults, burrowing into tree bark, rock cracks, and leaves for a good long nap until spring. Some even make their own homes, hanging their chrysalises from branches and stems like a holiday ornament with a very special gift inside.

Luck Be A Ladybug.

Did you know that over 400 different species of ladybugs call North America home? These predatory insects are the “good luck bugs”; when a ladybug is near, the garden is clear of aphids and other soft-bodied garden pests. By skipping your fall garden manicure, you give lady bugs and other predatory insects plenty of leaves, plants, and rocks to nestle under once temps drop. And when they warm back up again, you’ll have a natural pesticide crew just waiting to return your kindness. (Here are some more natural pesticide options).

Free, All-Natural Bird Feed.

When you foster a healthy bottom to the food chain, its higher ranks also benefit. While finches will appreciate you leaving your coneflower seed heads alone for the winter, other birds like chickadees, wrens, nuthatches, and bluebirds are more likely to thank you for the insects you are sheltering. (This isn’t heartless, it’s nature performing at its most efficient). Insects are a protein-rich food source, and birds need them to survive the winter. The better you are at nurturing insect hibernation, the better your bird watching will be. And the more insects you have, the more that will make it until spring.

Don’t waste your money filling bird (alas, squirrel) feeders over the winter. Let your garden provide as nature intended with bugs, berries, and seed heads.

Messy Gardens Are Beautiful.

It may be hard to make the switch from manicured to messy, but we invite you to see your garden in a new way this winter. By cultivating native plants, grasses, shrubs, and trees, you are providing four-season interest, protection, and use to hundreds of different species, all the way up the food chain. Put your pruners away and take out your camera instead; you’ll soon be able to capture snowflakes on seed pods, frosted leaves, and the friendly greeting of your neighborhood cardinal.

Because Fall Is Busy Enough.

No matter what life stage you are in, fall is a busy time of year. Games, school, travel, holidays—it seems that September starts and the suddenly it’s the New Year. Give yourself a break from a task that doesn’t need to be done until much later. This isn’t saying you should never clean up your garden; do it in the spring, after the weather warms up a bit and coaxes those insects out of hiding and after you’ve had a long winter’s nap yourself. You’ll be glad you waited.

Does your garden ever get messy? Let us know in the comments below!

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