By Robin Trott, Extension Educator
Many gardeners are adding perennials, shrubs and trees that support pollinators to their landscapes. But, how about your lawn? We’re seeing more interest in “bee lawns,” including support from the state of Minnesota to encourage lawns that are good for pollinators and the planet.
What’s a bee-friendly lawn? Bee lawns are turfgrass areas that include low-growing flowers that wild bees and honey bees use as forage for nectar and pollen. Some of the flowers used include: Dutch white clover (Trifolium repens), self-heal (Prunella vulgaris) and creeping thyme (Thymus sepryllum).
What causes pollinator decline?
Several main factors contribute to pollinator decline:
• loss of forage
• irresponsible use of pesticides
• introduction of pests and diseases from abroad
Bees need sources of nectar and pollen to survive, and given that over 50 million acres nationwide are made up of turfgrass (one of the largest mono-crops), the opportunity is great to provide more foraging opportunities for bees.
Bee lawn study and findings
Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s bee labs have done extensive work studying what turns someone’s lawn into a good bee habitat. The University of Minnesota Turfgrass Science lab has teamed up with the University of Minnesota Bee Lab to re-imagine the American version of a turf lawn…through a project commonly referred to as “the bee lawn” project.
The research team includes Extension Entomologist and Professor Marla Spivak, Turfgrass Science Professor Eric Watkins and graduate student James Wolfin. For three years, they studied two types of lawns to determine what kind of lawn supports a diversity of bees here in Minnesota. Here are some of the findings:
• The results from this study indicate that allowing flowers to grow in a low-input lawn, or intentionally seeding flowers into a lawn, can support a diverse community of insect pollinators.
• Dutch white clover lawns supported 55 species of bees, accounting for nearly 20% of the bees recorded in the State of Minnesota.
• Lawns florally enhanced with Dutch white clover, self-heal, and creeping thyme saw greater bee diversity than clover-only lawns, with distinct bee communities utilizing the self-heal and creeping thyme. These lawns supported 66 species of bees.
These researchers encourage homeowners to consider adding at least white clover to their lawns.
For more information about bee lawns, visit https://beelab.umn.edu/bee-lawn
Until next time, happy gardening!