Updated: Mar 7
In places with four seasons, like our home in the Mid-Atlantic bioregion, “clean up season” rolls around roughly twice a year in the spring and fall. Whether it’s the first warm rays of sun as spring finally approaches after months of cabin fever, or the crisp cool edges of winter creeping in to signal the end of fall, the time inevitably comes when people hit their yards and gardens in a frenzy to tidy up.
While it can look different for everyone, the common themes of a conventional clean up usually involve power tools, plastic bags, chemical sprays, yanking, pulling, scraping, and removing vegetation. Tragically for pollinators, insects, and wildlife, this means devastation for their homes, increasing food scarcity, and disruption to the natural rhythms of their ecosystems.
As ecological gardeners and land stewards, we care A LOT about the well-being of this intricate network of beings (biotic and abiotic) and the relationships between them - what makes up the ecosystems in our Places, where we also live, love, work and worship.
Every action we take in our Place goes far beyond just us and our homes, and the way we clean up our green space is no exception.
Ecologically Mindful CleanUp
Is there a place for cleaning up your yard when your goal is to interact with the land in ecologically beneficial ways? Yes, there can be! But the way we approach cleaning up the land is very different from traditional mow-n-blow, rake-and-scrape landscaping.
The main differences between conventional cleanups and Mindful CleanUps are when we clean up (hint: no early birds), how we approach the landscape, and what we avoid altogether.
Keep reading to find out why it’s essential to do things differently for pollinators, beneficial insects, and wildlife this clean up season, and what a Mindful CleanUp looks like.
Cutting vines from trees and picking up trash can be done anytime of year!
What is a Mindful CleanUp and Why Does it Matter?
In LadyBug’s timeline, a Mindful CleanUp is a service we offer only after visiting a site for a Land Walk. After years of experience and tuning into Nature’s wisdom, we no longer simply show up in a new landscape and start ripping things out. Instead, we lean into the first principle of permaculture: Observe + Interact.
Mindful CleanUp Step 1: Observe
It’s so important to slow down, witness and understand what is already present in the landscape and what’s going on there, before making any drastic changes. The types of “weeds” that are present can teach us about soil conditions, for example. Plants that some people find “less desirable” might be supporting a community of beneficial insects that we want to keep around. Even a simple pile of logs and brush might be home to a family of animals whose habitat is disappearing more every day.
As the human who dwells or visits with the landscape on a regular basis, you’re already in the best position to get to know the land intimately - which is amazing! The first keystone of a Mindful CleanUp is to take your time observing.
Tools for Observation
Seek App: Our go-to plant ID tool while out in Nature! Download Seek by iNaturalist here.
Land Walking: a simple practice of walking around your land, your neighborhood, the streets, trails and places around where you live, with attention and mindfulness.
Book a Land Walk Consultation or a Virtual Site Visit
Using the Seek app and field guides to determine your approach per plant is a great practice.
Mindful CleanUp Step 2: Interact
Once you’ve gotten the lay of the land, identified species, and consulted with ecological mentors or experienced land walkers, you may discover that there are some less desirable species you do want to remove, others that can be relocated, and ecologically supportive actions you can take.
Enter the second part of our permaculture principle - interacting.
Cleaning up mindfully is an excellent opportunity to interact with the landscape while you’re still learning about it - and truthfully, you’ll always be learning for as long as you have a relationship with the land!
Mindful CleanUp activities often include:
Selective weeding, vine cutting + removal of unwanted species
Trimming branches, removing dead or diseased shrubs/trees
Chipping debris for fresh mulch or bundling it into "habitat hotels"
Spreading mulch or woodchips in garden beds
Transplanting (early spring + fall only)
Some tasks differ between spring and fall
As you work, stay present with your task and continue observing while you’re interacting with the plants and soil with your hands and mind. Take notes, ID plants, and sketch areas of interest. Gardening and stewardship activities are wonderful for regulating your nervous system, deepening your sense of place and belonging, sweating out toxins, soaking in some vitamin D, and supporting your overall health.
Pruning and weeding can be done selectively based on the species and the time of year.
Mindful CleanUp Step 3: Reduce, Relocate, Repurpose
The sign of a conventional cleanup is a long line of thick plastic trash bags at the curb, full of precious natural resources waiting to be hauled off to the dump. Mindful CleanUp approaches “yard waste” differently!
One main goal of ecological gardening is to keep as many valuable resources on-site as possible. That’s why we reduce the amount of “yard waste” we create in the first place, by preserving habitat wherever we can. In fall, we’re talking Leave the Leaves! In spring, the most important thing is to avoid pruning standing stalks too early, before stem-nesting insects have a chance to emerge.
When the time is right, you may be trimming and pruning vines, twigs, and branches that can be relocated somewhere on-site to provide essential habitat. There are also “Chelsea chop” or “chop-n-drop” methods of pruning that can preserve habitat while providing ground cover, warmth, and nutrients for soil.
→ Read More :: Building Habitat For Wildlife: What’s In It For Us?
After finding all the opportunities to repurpose and relocate organic matter on site, you may choose to take the excess organic material to a local yard waste composting center. That’s something to think about! There it can be upcycled into nutrient-dense mulch and soil. Many of these sites won’t accept grass clippings because they are typically so laden with chemicals. We love Dig My Earth in Dauphin for their production of high-quality organic soil.
For any trash, toxic waste, or aggressive species that you want to remove for good, without spreading them further in the landscape or poisoning other places, we recommend taking debris to a local incinerator. LadyBug uses Covanta. Check out Covanta’s sustainability statement!
Leaving some bare soil for seeds to land and spread is useful; piling debris into habitat bundles is excellent!
Key Concepts to Keep in Mind
When clean up frenzy hits, remember you don’t have to jump on the bandwagon! It’s perfectly fine - and in fact, ecologically beneficial - to slow down and wait before causing disturbance in the landscape. It’s our job in the fall season to leave food and shelter for beneficial insects, pollinators, and wildlife to survive the winter. In spring, many insects and pollinators depend on standing stalks, ground covers, and warm, cozy layers of vegetation to continue their next generation.
As a quick recap:
WHEN to do Mindful Cleanups:
Spring - after temps are consistently above 50*F for a 1-2 weeks
Fall - no later than the first hard frost
Get our complete Timeline in the Ultimate Mindful CleanUp Guide
WHAT to avoid:
Habitat destruction - removing beneficial plant species + natural resources like leaves, seeds, standing stalks + ground covers
Excess waste - bagging (non-aggressive) organic material and sending to the landfill
Tools powered by fossil fuels that spread chemical exhaust into habitats
Willy-nilly weeding - pulling plants without identifying them first
Mulching excessively - leave some bare soil for seeds to germinate :)
HOW to Clean Up Mindfully:
Observe + Interact
Ask questions! Learn names. Approach with curiosity.
Use our Ultimate Mindful CleanUp Guide - details below!
All ethical ecological action starts with observing and interacting with the land. The best time to start observing is right now! Consider booking a Land Walk Consultation to jumpstart your observation skills.
Helpful Resources + How-To’s
There are a few ways to jumpstart your EarthCare Journey, so choose what works for you.
Get on the Mindful CleanUp Service Waitlist! If you're local, the LadyBug EarthCare crew would love to join you for a Mindful CleanUp. Having experienced eyes and hands onboard is an ideal way to learn more about your land, and how to interact beneficially with what’s there. It’s also super efficient, and we can transform a totally overwhelming landscape in a single day.
Join us for FREE at the MidAtlantic EarthCare Summit, happening March 22-25, 2023! Learn with leading experts, educators, activists, naturalists, and earth workers at this groundbreaking new virtual event. Register here for free and mark your calendar! <3
Get our Ultimate Mindful CleanUp Guide and many more EarthCare goodies in our Loveliness Bundle when you purchase an All Access Pass to the EarthCare Summit!
In this downloadable PDF GUIDE you will find:
ToolKit Checklist (printable)
Basic Pruning Tutorial
Sheet Mulching Tutorial
Natural Materials Collection List
Detailed descriptions of the Mindful CleanUp process and much more
The All Access Pass also includes valuable freebies, gifts and discounts from our summit speakers, plus lifetime access to video + audio replays, transcripts of these powerful sessions, and many more bonuses from LadyBug and the dozens of amazing speakers lining up to share about EarthCare.