Bee Lawns and Beyond

bee on clover

A lush carpet of green extends in all directions at calf-height, covering what used to be a boring lawn space with a vibrant community of blooms supporting a bounty of buzzing bees, butterflies and other beautiful bugs. This is a bee lawn, a space where people and pollinators play together.

The first time I installed a bee lawn, I had to wonder what my grandfather would have thought. Here I removed a perfectly green, weed-free turf and intentionally spread seeds of weeds the previous land-owner had worked diligently for decades to keep at bay.  When we think of lawns, we might picture a postcard image of a golf course mowed to a uniform height. Anyone who’s labored in the lawn understands there’s a price to pay to keep this European aesthetic alive on American land.  Exhaust fumes, chemical smells of freshly applied herbicides and ear-ringing engines need to be accounted for, along with our precious time. Life wasn’t quite so hectic when grandpa used to spend half the weekend saddled up on the John Deere. Who has time or energy to spend maintaining the lawn anymore?

Bee lawns are getting a lot of buzz lately. Between their low-maintenance appeal and the ever-growing awareness of our need to help pollinators, people are swarming toward bee lawn transitions. Just this year, the stalwart turf masters of the City of Edina passed a “No-Mow May” resolution, inviting residents to forego the mow for a whole month each spring. This official policy encourages people to let white clover and other bee habitat weeds have a chance to bloom and provide food for pollinators. When suburbs like Edina turn over a new leaf in the lawn care realm, you know the times they are a-changing.

When I first started experimenting with bee lawns 15 years ago, I had a lot to learn. What plants belong in a bee lawn? What works in the shade or full sun? What does mowing do to encourage or discourage a transition? When my company first started promoting bee lawns, we had to make our own seed blends and experiment to find the best plants for any given site. Now we’ve helped over 200 properties transition to bee lawns. While we’re still learning every day, our experience has encouraged us to expand our efforts and help as many people as possible make the switch.

After over a decade of installing and managing bee lawns, I can assure anyone who’s asking, this is not your grandpa’s lawn. Bee lawns grow love for planet and pollinators. They trade in the old suffocating aesthetic of success for a pleasing pallet of pollinator health, watershed protection and, above all, a low-maintenance lifestyle.

Most days, I secretly felt like some kind of modern Johnny-clover-seed, but it’s not entirely altruistic. Helping people transition to bee lawns is more spiritually renewing than anything meditation or yoga have ever done for me. Something in me feels safer, healthier, happier every time another land owner decides to make the switch. One of my short-term goals is to start seeing lightning bugs and toads in my neighborhood again. Long term, it would be amazing to see the whole region return to healthy landscape habits.  The thought of achieving these goals is enough to keep me spreading the seeds of change in the hearts and minds of my friends and neighbors.

 

As the owner of Minnehaha Falls Landscaping, Russ Henry has guided and performed organic transition in hundreds of home landscapes and several schools, parks, condos and office landscapes. His practices are rooted in healthy soil, growing abundant and healthy landscapes without using any synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Russ is passionate about the Minnehaha Falls Landscaping organic lawn program, utilizing training and consultation from renowned soil health and organic turf experts Dr. Elaine Ingham and Chip Osborne. To usher in the future of healthy lawn care, Russ helped the state of Minnesota launch Bee Lawns, a lawn care program that can protect bees and save landowners thousands of dollars per year.

Hungry for more? Save a spot in this upcoming webinar with Russ Henry!

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