Planting a Pollinator Friendly Bee Lawn

Turf grass lawns are an American tradition. Everyone who has any kind of yard or property aspires to having a perfect green manicured carpet. But as we now know, grass can be a dead zone for native insects and birds, devoid of any nutrition or habitat for native species. Mowing, watering, fertilizing, and pest controls applied to turf, all impact the environment negatively.

American homes are surrounded by lawns with little pollinator value

Why have a Bee Lawn?

  • Bee lawns have flowers mixed in with various types of turf grasses
  • The flowers of a bee lawn provide nectar and pollen for pollinators
  • Bee lawns are environmentally friendly because they  use less fertilizer and pesticides
  • Bee lawns can still be used just like a regular lawn with lots of foot traffic
  • A bee lawn can attract over 60 species of native bees, including many endangered ones
Bumblebees are one of our native bees

But what if you still want to have a green lawn, but also provide habitat? There is an alternative. You can do it by planting a “Bee Lawn”, a seed mix which has been developed by the University of Minnesota. Incorporating three types of flowers, Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens), Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris), and Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum) into your lawn grasses can make your lawn much more hospitable for wildlife. All blooming at 3″ or less, a bee lawn won’t take up as many resources as you don’t have to fertilize and water. You do still have to mow, but much less frequently. A bee lawn isn’t as valuable as a fully planted landscape with native shrubs and perennials, but can be part of your tool box in providing complete habitat suited to bees. Lawns are still great additions to our landscapes, but why not make it more bee friendly?

Planting creeping thyme plugs for a thyme lawn
White clover blooming in turf

Add These Flowers To Your Lawn

White Clover is not a native and is commonly thought of as a weed and lawn purists are always trying to get rid of it. Tolerant of shade and considered a legume which has a huge benefit to your lawn – it fixes its own nitrogen. That means it can add Nitrogen to the soil which actually fertilizes it. Plus, clover resists browning out from pet urine! That sold it for me.

Self-Heal or Prunella, is a native and grows in sun or part shade and has a long bloom time, from June to August. And the purple flower really adds some color to the lawn. Used medicinally for centuries, prunella is a member of the mint family and can spread vigorously like mints which makes it suited for lawns.

Creeping Thyme is a non-native with small pink flowers that provides pollinators with nectar. For more information on establishing a creeping thyme lawn, go to Moss, Sedge, and Creeping Thyme Lawn Alternatives.

Creeping thyme can be walked on

Others To Try 

Other candidates to try or to keep if you have them already are Common Violets (Viola sororia) which are  natives and host plants to some fritillary butterflies. Bees are always buzzing around my violets. I don’t mind them in the lawn, but banish them from my planting beds.

Common violet

Dandelions are another candidate for a bee lawn. Though non-native, I spot dandelions blooming all year long, even in the winter when pollinator forage is scarce to non-existent.

Honeybee on dandelion

Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea) can be a pesky and vigorous weed almost impossible to eradicate. But why bother? Bees love the early blooming flowers.

Creeping Charlie

Not many plants can adapt to being mowed short and stepped on, so you need to select your varieties carefully. They must be low-growing and flower at very low heights and be tolerant of foot traffic. Plus they need to be attractive to bees, compete with other turf grasses for space and be perennial. And maybe you already have a bee lawn! If you have various flowering weeds already growing in your lawn, avoid using weed killer applications.

White clover resists pet urine

Plant a Pre-Mix

I have seen mixes available at garden centers and on line or you can customize your own by buying seeds separately for each species and mixing them. It is certainly cheaper doing it this way, but I would opt out for convenience and buy a mix.

Bee Lawn mix available from Mann Lake

Just like a regular lawn, the best time to seed a bee lawn is early spring or fall and you would follow the same methods as establishing a traditional lawn. Overseeding is an easy way to incorporate flowers into your lawn, especially if you have bare spots.

4 Replies to “Planting a Pollinator Friendly Bee Lawn”

  1. When my daughter lived in Virginia Beach, a neighbor’s lawn was covered with blooming violets. My daughter complemented the lady on her flowers and was aghast when she said, “Yeah, I’ve been trying to get rid of them.” Here in Florida, we have several native groundcovers that are pollinator friendly and there is a movement to use them more.

  2. Do you know how the other two handle pet urine? Hoping to do a mix, but only if all the planes can handle the pup.

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