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Natural Awakenings Twin Cities

Catch the Spring Buzz

Apr 01, 2021 08:47AM ● By Russ Henry

Courtesy of Russ Henry

Spring is in the air and, soon, people will be reconnecting outdoors, smelling flowers and hoping to catch sight of bees, birds and butterflies on the breeze. Right now, pollinators need a friend, and everyone who has a lawn or landscape can play a critical role in uplifting the ecosystem in their own yard. Blooming trees and shrubs, pollinator patches and bee-lawns are a few favorite strategies for bringing in the bees.

Pollinators do a big job that helps the whole planet, but they are facing the threat of extinction around the world. Bees and other insects buzz from flower to flower, delivering and blending pollen wherever they go. This allows plants to pollinate and make fruit and seeds. Without pollinators, we would lose over one-third of the food we eat.

The state of Minnesota recently named a new State Bee to help bring attention to the plight and potential of pollinators. The Rusty Patch bumblebee is facing extinction due to habitat loss and widespread pesticide use. As an “indicator species”, we know that if Rusty goes, so too will many important pollinators because the plants and strategies that help Rusty likely help a big list of other native pollinators, too.

There are many landscape features that can play critical support roles for pollinators. Blooming trees and shrubs like apple, basswood, crabapple, catalpa, dogwood, honey-locust and serviceberry are adored by bees and butterflies. Plant trees with compost and wood mulch also support their establishment.

Pollinator patches are another perfect way to provide a happy place for beneficial insects. Plants like meadow blazing-star, Joe Pye weed and milkweed are mega-monarch magnets that will bring in droves of butterflies. Asters, bee balm and calamintha will feed honeybees and bumblebees throughout the growing season.

Early spring is the perfect time to plan for a plentiful season of pollinator protection. Making plant lists, prepping sites and soils, signing up for garden coaching sessions and spreading compost are excellent early spring activities to keep gardeners buzzing until planting time. A strong pollinator patch plant list will include a wide variety of native plants that will bloom throughout the growing season. Spring is also the perfect time to start a new compost bin so the compost will be ready to spread by fall. Compost helps plants grow and bloom and provides more support for Rusty and all his friends.

Bee-lawns are causing a buzz in neighborhoods across Minnesota. Developed by pollinator advocates and championed by the University of Minnesota, bee-lawns are a low maintenance replacement for regular grass lawns. Filled with blooming, ground cover flowers and short, native fescue grasses, bee-lawns support pollinators and people. Bees, butterflies and other pollinators can find the delicious nectar they need in a bee-lawn, and people save time and money because bee-lawns don’t need to be mowed.

Local vendors have started selling bee-lawn seed mix and some landscape contractors offer bee-lawn installations. Starting a bee-lawn is easy with the right seed mix. The best bee-lawn seed mixes contain Dutch white clover, self-heal, creeping thyme, and four types of fescue grass, including sheep, hard, chewing and creeping red fescues. Together, this mix feeds over 80 species of Minnesota native bees.

There are rapid and moderately paced methods for transitioning to a bee- lawn. Tools for the job include shovels, a sod cutter, a seed spreader and a core aerator machine, all of which can be rented locally. For a rapid transition, strip away existing grass with a shovel or sod cutter. Aerate the ground thoroughly, spread bee-lawn seed and compost, and cover with a seed blanket. For a more moderate approach, aerate and overseed into existing lawns three times per season. Spring, late summer and early fall are the best times to overseed with bee-lawn mix. 

Bee-lawns transform outdoor spaces and grow health for the whole community. Pesticides and synthetic fertilizers can be avoided entirely, lawn mowers can go to rust, and pollinators are supported with all-season blooms after a lawn has been transitioned from conventional maintenance practices into a beautiful bee-lawn.

This spring, Rusty Patch and his pollinator pals will be drawn into yards with abundant blooms from a variety of native plants, especially where large trees and shrubs are covered in flowers. Homeowners who want to see the most enchanting bugs that nature ever invented can start planning now to provide a peaceful place for pollinators to play in their own landscape.

Russ Henry is a naturalist, gardener, soil health specialist, educator, and owner of Minnehaha Falls Landscaping. As a Certified Soil Life Consultant, he scientifically explores and supports soil health—the foundation for beauty and productivity in all landscapes. Henry has a passionate commitment to protecting and growing ecosystems across Minnesota. For more information, visit MinnehahaFallsLandscape.com.

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Read the full April 2021 Magazine