Americans love their lawns, but lawns lack resources for bees and other wildlife. We can all take steps to make our lawns more supportive for pollinators, even if you want to keep your green turf.
Making a green turf more pollinator supportive
Reduce the area you need to mow by expanding your flower beds or planting flowering trees. This will save you time and money in the long run. You can also let some dandelions and white clover grow. Bees in urban environments will benefit. White clover are low-growing, so you can still mow your lawn. Another benefit of white clovers is that they are are nitrogen fixers, meaning they add nitrogen back into the soil. Nitrogen makes your lawn happy! Read for more information on clover lawns.
Be careful when and where you spray herbicides and insecticides on your lawn. If you spray a systemic pesticide like imidacloprid for grubs, be careful of trees near your lawn. Tree roots can absorb systemic pesticides, which end up in their pollen and nectar which bees eat. You can learn more about controlling grubs while keeping pollinators safe in this MSU document.
Establishing a flowering bee lawn
Flowering bee lawns are highly beneficial for pollinator health. You can create a lawn with low growing flower varieties combined with grass to keep a turf-like feel, or you can use a native wildflower mix that will look more like a prairie. What you choose is up to you!
How to plan for a new flowering lawn
Starting a new flowering lawn takes planning. You first have to determine how much lawn you want to seed and what environmental conditions you have in your yard. Is your lawn shady or sunny? Flat or sloped? What soil type do you have? Ask experts for help in the planning phase. Oftentimes, local seed and plant producers are willing to help and already understand the conditions in your area. If you want to learn more about your soil, you can also get your soil tested at MSU. This will tell you what nutrients you have in your soil and how much fertilizer you might need in the beginning to get the best results.
Once you know more about your yard, you can start looking for a good seed mix. Diverse seed mixes are key for urban and rural areas. Urban area seed mixes must contain LESS grasses, as they tend to take over. Most cities have restrictions on the height of grass, but not flowers. Check your local restrictions to make sure your lawn would not break any rules. USDA seed mixes are better for rural areas, while local seed companies are better resources for city mixes.
Sources for seeds/plants:
- Michigan Native Plant Producers Association- great for connecting with experts
- Michigan Pheasants Forever seed sale list
- Hidden Savannah Nursery- Kalamazoo, MI
- Michigan Wildflower Farm- Portland, MI
- Native Connections- Three Rivers, MI
- Native Plant Nursery, LLC- Ann Arbor, MI
- Wildtype Native Plant Nursery- Mason, MI
- Cardno Native Plant Nursery- Walkerton, IN
- Earth Source Native Plant Nursery- Ft. Wayne, IN
- Spence Nursery- Muncie, IN
- Pollinator Conservation Seed Mixes (Xerces Society)
Once you have a plan, you can begin to prep your site. For best results, you have to kill grass and weeds before you plant. This can be done using a nonselective herbicide like glyphosate, soil solarization, or prescribed burns. If you don't want to use an herbicide, you can dig out the existing lawn and solarize the soil instead. If you live in a rural area and have a huge lot to prepare for a flowering lawn, you may want to try prescribed burning to kill existing turf. Keep in mind that city lots cannot be burned with fire and prescribed burning requires a specialist to ensure safety. Learn more about each of these processes in the links below.
Resources for planning and prepping your flowering lawn:
- Get your soil tested at MSU!
- UC Davis Soil Solarization
- Soil Solarization for Gardens and Landscapes
- UC Davis Killing Lawn with Herbicides
- Michigan Prescribed Fire Council
- Helping You Plant for Pollinators: technical assistance, funding, and more
- Renovating your lawn
After killing your grass and weeds using one of the previous methods, work with an expert or read guides to plant and maintain your flowering lawn. So many written guides and resources can help you get started and learn all of the steps. Check out the resources for flowering pollinator lawns below to get started.
Resources for planting and maintaining a flowering lawn:
- Smart lawn alternatives to protect pollinators
- Smart lawn care to protect pollinators
- Flowering Bee Lawns for Pollinators- University of Minnesota
- Benefits of a clover lawn
- EarthEasy Lawn Alternatives- How to reduce your lawn care costs while lessening your yard's environmental impact
- Removing lawn to make way for more habitat
- Watch A yard becomes a pollinator habitat
- Xerces Society: Pollinator Habitat Installation Guides