Pollinators are the unsung heroes of our food supply, responsible for one out of every three bites we consume. And yet, they carry a disproportionate burden in society’s quest for perfectly manicured lawns. From habitat destruction to overuse of pesticides, human actions are contributing to a worrisome decline in pollinator populations—but there is a lot you can do to help them.
First things first: This is not an all-or-nothing situation. Like most issues, our stance on this is more shades of gray than black and white. In other words: You don’t have to ditch your lawn to be a friend to pollinators! Here’s what you can do:
1. Use pesticides responsibly. The most important thing you can do to help pollinators is limit your use of harsh pesticides—and the best way to limit pesticide use is Integrated Pest Management. This proactive practice involves preventing weeds and pest problems in the first place, and turning to the least-toxic, least-persistent alternative pesticides as a last resort. If you do need to spray, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
2. Let your lawn flower. That’s right—lawns can flower if you think outside the blade box! Clover, for example, can be a beautiful boon for pollinators, and it was a popular lawn component before the advent of herbicide marketing. You can plant certain bulbs, like crocus and grape hyacinth, directly in your lawn. Finally, you can tolerate weeds to an extent. We know, we know, just hear us out. By allowing dandelions and other early-season weeds to flower, you can provide critical pollinator forage that will jumpstart populations. Just remove those flower heads with your mower before they set seed, to prevent an out-of-control population.
Sunday ProTip: It’s best to mow in the early morning or evening when pollinators are less likely to be foraging.
3. Swap some of your grass for flowering plants. Converting even a small portion of lawn into a garden is great for pollinators—but the secret is choosing the right plants—and keeping in mind things like bloom time or how far different pollinators can travel. Wildflowers and native plants are a great start, because they are well adapted to your region including your local pollinators. (Bonus! They typically require less supplemental water and fertilizer, they can reduce runoff, and they can even sequester carbon.) Hardy bulbs are also great, especially if you’re looking for a worry-free, can’t-mess-it-up option. Species like allium, grape hyacinth, and crocus are pollinator favorites; just plant them in the fall and they’ll return year after year in a colorful spring show!
Sunday ProTip: When choosing what to plant, select species that bloom at different times throughout the year in order to provide constant forage. A good rule of thumb is at least three different plants per blooming season (spring, summer, and fall). For the best plants for your area we recommend reaching out to your local native plant society.
4. Provide pollinator habitat. While migrating butterflies can travel many miles at a time and only need a warm spot to rest and soak up the sun, bees can’t travel very far. They also carry nectar and pollen to their nests, so it’s vital to provide nesting areas near the flowers you worked so hard to grow. Here are some simple things you can provide that will offer a big welcome to pollinators:
Sunday ProTip: For any spots that contain standing water, be sure to replace weekly to avoid mosquitoes and other pests.
Ready to get started? Take a walk around your neighborhood and see what plants seem to be thriving and, most importantly, which ones seem to be the most popular with pollinators. That will give you a great jumping-off point for following the tips above—and turning your yard into a living, buzzing piece of your local ecosystem.
Department of Entomology. Step 2: Provide Water Sources for Pollinators. Penn State College of Agriculture Sciences.
Moncada, K., M. Reiter, J. Wolfin. Planting and Maintaining a Bee Lawn. University of Minnesota Extension.
National Wildlife Federation. How to Provide Water in Monarch Gardens.
Neal, B. Pollinator Support. Cornell Cooperative Extension.