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