Save the bees (and time and money) by creating a bee lawn |
Home & Garden

Save the bees (and time and money) by creating a bee lawn

Associated Press
Bee lawns are turf grasses blended with low-growing perennials that bloom again after mowing. This is a spontaneous ground cover that is a great pollen source for beneficial insects like this pollen-laden Italian honeybee. Dandelions may be considered weeds by fastidious lawn managers, but they bloom early in spring when little else is flowering and are favored by foraging pollinators.
Bee lawns are turf grasses blended with low-growing perennials like this white clover that bloom again after mowing. This is a spontaneous ground cover that is a great pollen source for beneficial insects.

Flowering “bee lawns” that attract pollinators are a compromise between fastidious turf management and the more casual yard approach. They add biodiversity to the landscape and need less maintenance. That makes them cost-effective, too.

Bee lawns are turf grasses blended with low-growing perennials that bloom again after mowing. They’re cared for like typical lawns, making them comfortable for playing and lounging. But they also contain protein-rich ingredients providing vital nutrients for foraging pollinators.

Their natural diversity — they might contain fine fescues mixed with such spontaneous plants as white clover, dandelions (that bloom early when little else is flowering), creeping thyme, daisies and shade-tolerant lamium — make them less demanding and more resilient than Kentucky bluegrass. Bee lawns require minimal watering and little fertilizing, encourage deeper roots and build healthier soil — especially when their clippings are returned to the turf.

James Wolfin, a graduate research assistant working on the University of Minnesota’s bee lawn project, suggests using the fescue Festuca brevipila.

“This grass has a thin leaf blade and a slow rate of growth,” Wolfin said. “The slow rate of growth is essential in making sure the grass blades do not create a canopy over the flowers.”

Hand weeding is recommended.

Mow less

For people who feel they don’t have the time, money or talent for gardening, bee lawns mean “we can mow our lawns less frequently, let the lawn flowers grow and provide habitat for bees,” said Susannah Lerman, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station in Amherst, Mass. “Everyone can contribute to this simple solution for advancing bee conservation.”

Bee populations have been crashing for the past couple of decades because of habitat loss, chemical use and parasitic mites. These collapses are particularly worrisome since pollinators are instrumental in the growth of more than a third of the food making it to our tables.

Every pollinator plant helps rebuild those insect stocks, even if it’s just part of a colorful arrangement on a corner of the property.

Where to plant?

Sunny slopes, rocky ground, boulevards, athletic fields and golf courses are optimal locations. “Also, office parks could benefit from bee lawns, particularly since they have very low human traffic,” Lerman said.

Check, though, with your neighbors and city hall before doing any lawn-alternative landscaping.

“It shouldn’t be too much of a hassle to get your community on board with bee lawns,” Wolfin said. “In terms of dealing with neighbors, sometimes it can be useful to install a row or strip of rocks or wood chips along your fence line to hinder the ability of flowers to spread to your neighbor’s lawn.”

Signage also helps, he said.

Monitor growth regularly to ensure you’re not introducing invasive weeds or creating a tall, unsightly yard. Mowing to about 3 inches is a good rule to follow.

“The two-week mowing regime supported the highest abundance of bees,” Lerman said, citing data from a recent turf study in Springfield, Mass.

“We documented 111 species of bee (mostly native species and the majority wild bees) using the lawn flowers in western Massachusetts suburban yards,” she said.

Bee lawns are compatible with family activities unless you run into aggressive colonies of ground-dwelling yellow jackets. Honeybees, wild bees and bumblebees usually are docile unless provoked.

Categories: Lifestyles | Home Garden
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.