Gardening and landscaping are important mental and physical outlets, and after Minnesota winters, it is tempting to dive into it. However, most residential landscapes and their extensive lawns provide little to no benefit to pollinators and other insects that are struggling globally. Fortunately, there are easy steps you can take to help, and all it requires is a bit of laziness! Don’t clean up too much, wait to mow, and plant natives!
First, don’t clear out your gardens and landscaping too early in the Spring (and don’t clean up too much in the Fall either!). Old hollow stems and leaves from the previous year, as well as patches of dirt, are necessary overwintering locations for our many hundreds of species of bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, and other pollinators. As much as you can, leave them in place into May. Pollinator-friendly gardening does no good if you literally throw away those pollinators before they wake up in the Spring!
Second, join the “No Mow May” Movement. Lawns can be important play spaces but maintaining them is often costly financially and environmentally through frequent mowing, fertilizing, and pesticides. Manicured lawns are the single largest irrigated “crop” in the country, covering 2% of the United States! The idolized green lawn is a desert for wildlife, however. Pollinators emerging from hibernation are hungry, depending entirely on the year’s first flowers for all their food. Declines in native Spring flowers appear to have at least partially driven declines of some bees. Aside from early flowering trees and shrubs like maple, willow, and serviceberry, some of the only early Spring wildflowers available in residential neighborhoods are non-native dandelions. Dandelions are not a complete nutrition source for pollinators, but in the absence of native wildflowers, something is better than nothing. Delaying mowing keeps those flowers there. If you must mow, then mow infrequently and tall. Local ordinances vary, but the city of West St. Paul recently adopted “No Mow May” by relaxing yard height requirements until June to help pollinators. Minnesota’s new “Lawns to Legumes” program has also been wildly successful.
Messy gardening does more than benefit pollinators. The stalks and seed heads from flowers that pollinators pollinated the previous summer provide food for wild birds through the winter and then nesting material for them in Spring. Leaving stems and leaves to naturally decompose enriches the soil, stores carbon, and helps reduce weeds. Mowing less reduces air and water pollution and erosion, and allows grass to build deeper, more drought-tolerant root systems.
Want to do more? Native wildflowers provide much bigger benefits to pollinators than dandelion-filled lawns. They are adapted to our climate (requiring little maintenance) and have pre-existing ecological relationships with our wildlife. Check out the What To Plant section of our Plant to Pollinators page for suggestions on great native Spring-blooming flowers, like bluebells, columbine, prairie smoke, and wild geranium.
Go On! Be lazy! The yard can wait!