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 and can be time-consuming and expensive.
With 40 million acres dedicated to them in the U.S., lawns are the largest irrigated crop grown in the US, but offer minimal benefits to wildlife because of their lack of floral resources and nesting sites for native bees.
Why have a Bee Lawn?
Having a no mow bee lawn simply means allowing grasses to grow undisturbed for the month of May. This means that you won’t mow your lawn or use any other lawn equipment that could disturb the growth of the grass. Instead, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the beauty of your lawn in its natural state.
- 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 lawn, but also provide habitat by actively planting things that will attract bees? 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?
In spring, hungry and recently emerged native bees face a critical period. In urban and suburban areas, it may be challenging to locate floral resources but you can help out by allowing your lawn to grow for a more extended period, letting the flowers blossom. And if you are fully committed or you are afraid of what your neighbors think, how about a mow-less May? Instead of mowing every 5-7 days, double or triple the time between mowing. And forget about bee stinging. Native bees rarely sting and mostly will sting only when you step on them – so wear shoes on your lawn!
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 recommend Flowering Lawn seed kits, or Flawn. You can mix and match different seed mixtures to your existing lawn to easily transform your lawn into a low flowering lawn that neighbors will admire and might want to emulate. There is no need to remove your existing grass, just overseed in any season to start your flowers growing. You can even overseed in the snow!. When the snow melts the seed will sink into the soil and germinate when they are ready in the spring.
See my interview of Kaylee of Flawn, who have come up with pre-mixed seed combinations that it is easy to apply at any time of the year.
At the end of the winter, I usually have bare spots and throw some flower seeds on top to germinate.
By planting a variety of native plants, providing natural nesting sites, reducing pesticide use, and spreading the word about pollinator conservation, you can create a thriving ecosystem that supports not only pollinators but also birds, mammals, and other wildlife.
For more design ideas to help pollinators, go to: