If you are like me, your lawn has a bad reputation for being wildlife friendly. As a child, I was taught and witnessed lawns being intensively cared for. Every Saturday morning the hum of lawnmowers would wake me as neighbors began their weekend regiment. It was a choreographed display that has been portrayed in countless movies ever since…..and for good reason! A lush and well manicured lawn is high maintenance. I admit it, I am one of these guys…..I take pride in my lawn!
Lawns love fertilizer. They don’t flower (at least we don’t let them), so we make the customary 4 applications per year of high nitrogen fertilizers to keep them growing green and lush. A beautiful crop of dandelions make their emergence every spring so we are out spraying the lawn with an herbicide. One of our largest foes has been Crabgrass (an annual grass) and a necessary application of a pre-emergent is spread out each spring to stop the seeds from germinating. And then, you have that neighbor that drives you nuts because they don’t care for their lawn like you do. Their lawn has a beautiful groundcover that produces a sea of blue blossoms every spring, it’s a scene right out of the Sound of Music (now try and get that song out of your head). Come mid-summer, that same groundcover has found refuge in your lawn. Yes, that old nemesis, Creeping Charlie, is now threatening to take over the world, at least your piece of it. Out comes more broadleaf weed killer. Those darn grubs have been eating your lawn’s root system and patches of dead grass start appearing. You make the trek to Beisswenger’s and pick up a bag of grub killer. It’s spread over the lawn, watered in, and the insecticide moves downward, killing insects as it goes. Well, you get the picture. We make a multitude of chemical applications to our lawns every year. So, how does this affect wildlife?
A good example is the current plight of our bee populations. Originally, applications of pesticides were to blame for the decline of our pollinators, and the neonicitinoid class of insecticides were thrust into the spotlight. Greenhouse growers have been using them for years and it has been an excellent control for insect populations! We’ve learned that the situation is not as simple as blaming pesticides. There is disease, mite infestations, and habitat decline. Did you know that less than two percent of native prairies still exist in Minnesota? We are plowing these ecosystems under at an alarming rate. And without the bees, the remaining prairies would be dominated by grasses and other wind pollinated species of plants. This is a trickle down effect folks!
In an article written by the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, there are an estimated 400 species of native bees in Minnesota, 70% of the species are ground bees. We have 20 species of bumblebees that are native to Minnesota, 6 of them are in serious population decline. Governor Dayton just signed an executive order that will help protect the bumblebees and promote a supportive ecosystem wherever possible. (http://mn.gov/governor/assets/2016_08_25_EO_16-07_tcm1055-253931.pdf). And I’m sure you have seen the alarm emerging from the media lately…..bees have been added to the endangered species list. What the media does not include in the article is along with the bees, ten animal species, and 49 plant species have also been added to the endangered species list from Hawaii. Very few media outlets have reported the whole story. Most readers tend to skim the newspaper, pausing on those articles that affect them.
We can help save the bees by promoting a healthy lawn, transitioning away from that perfectionist mentality. The Entomological Society just finished conducting a study on lawns. They monitored 17 lawns over a 2 year period. They found 63 plant species commonly occurring in lawns, 30% of them native to North America. The most common species were dandelions and clover, both excellent pollinators for bees. Seven other bee pollinated species were found in 60% of the sites. Now think about how much lawn encompasses your home….that’s a lot of bee habitat! In that same study, bees were collected to identify species and habitat. A whopping 94.6% of the bees collected were native to north America, 73% of them were ground bees that nested in soils, and 48% are considered solitary bees.
Moving forward we will see a transition in the way we treat our lawns. We will move away from those scheduled applications toward a more curative approach and only when necessary. We will conduct a management strategy toward our lawn that prevents verses cures. Just as we take care of our bodies through the aging process, our lawns are in a constant state of change. A healthy lawn will automatically ward off attacks from insects and diseases.