New funding coming soon for bee-friendly yards

Cheryl Seeman is a Master Gardener and bee-lover who lives on Crooked Lake in Andover.  “They call me the Queen Bee,” says Seeman with a laugh, as she leads visitors through her verdant yard and gardens. The lawn is dotted with white clover and dandelion blooms. A wide rain garden borders a curbside city storm drain, and garden signs announce that this is pollinator-friendly territory. Her sprawling gardens are already lush and blooming, and in the backyard, red-winged blackbirds chirp and flit between tall reeds.

Cheryl Seeman has created a pollinator and water friendly landscape at her home on Crooked Lake in Andover.

Today, Crooked Lake has good water quality, but it wasn’t always that way. Over the years, Seeman witnessed firsthand the cumulative effect of chemical lawn treatments and runoff pollution. Years of work have finally restored the lake’s clear waters, and now she is dedicated to “saving the globe one yard at a time.” She’s part of the Andover Pollinator Awareness Project and will be featured on a garden tour in July designed to inspire other local residents to plant for pollinators in their yards.

Last month, the Minnesota legislature earmarked $900,000 to protect pollinators and support the DNR nongame wildlife program. One goal is to help homeowners turn lawns into pollinator-friendly habitats that support native bee and butterfly species, many of which are declining rapidly. In particular, lawmakers hope to save the rusty patched bumblebee, which is on the brink of extinction. The new Lawns to Legumes program will be run by the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), with homeowner grants becoming available in 2020. Funding will be targeted to priority areas where rusty patch bumble bees and other at-risk species are known to live and will be used to help homeowners replace conventional lawns with native gardens and bee-lawns.

rusty patch bumblebee
The rusty patched bumblebee is a federally listed endangered species, native to grasslands and tallgrass prairies of the Upper Midwest and Northeast. This one was found in a residential garden in Oakdale near a wetland. (Photo by Elizabeth Welty, Honey Bee Club of Stillwater)

As Cheryl Seeman has learned, native gardens and bee-lawns aren’t just good for the bees. Over the years, her yard has become a neighborhood sanctuary that nurtures wildlife and protects the nearby lake from runoff pollution. Her yard includes cherry trees, a native plum tree, and lilacs, as well as alliums, ground sedums, hyssop, and goldenrod. She also embraces what she calls “messy gardening” by using last fall’s leaves to mulch her garden beds. Kids visit her garden to search for caterpillars, and most of her neighbors have stopped treating their own lawns with chemicals as well.

If you are inspired to transition your conventional lawn to a bee-lawn, there are a variety of guidance resources available through BWSR, the Pollinator Friendly Alliance, and the Washington Conservation District. In general, bee lawns include a mix of low-growing perennials and grasses that can be mowed short, while also providing nutrition to pollinators. Most bee lawns feature white clover, creeping thyme, and self heal, along with low-mow fine fescue grasses. Good native options for bee lawns include ground plum (Astragalus crassicaprus), lanceleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), and calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum). Bee lawns are particularly well suited to areas of a yard that are otherwise challenging to keep green, such as a steep slope or boulevard.

bee lawn
Bee lawns feature a variety of low-growing flowering plants such as white clover, creeping thyme, and self heal, as well as low-mow fine fescue grasses. (Photo from Pollinator Friendly Alliance)

Prep your yard by mowing the lawn as short as you can and aerating the soil. You can scrape the soil of weeds or simply overseed existing patches of grass. After seeding, water daily for two weeks until the seeds are germinated. Once established, bee lawns do not require fertilizer or irrigation.

Learn more about Minnesota’s new Lawns to Legumes program

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