Bee at Ferrier property (Photo by Brent Calver)

Bee at Ferrier property (Photo by Brent Calver)

Bee lawns

What's all the buzz about?

Flower meadow (Photo courtesy PxHere)

Flower meadow (Photo courtesy PxHere)

Look out into your backyard. What do you see? A large square of lawn groomed to emerald green, monoculture perfection? Or a vibrant space full of colourful tiny flowers and grass, filled with thriving native pollinators?

If you want to save the bees, you should get used to that second picture, because a new, easy way to help them out, right in your backyard, has Albertans all a-buzz. It's time to change your manicured lawn into something cooler and much more functional: a bee lawn.

A bee lawn is made up of three important components: short flowers, grasses and tall flowers, all of which serve a different purpose. Keep in mind that traditionally you tend your lawn with the goal of keeping out flowers and other species, but a bee lawn will challenge the way you think about your lawn.

There are many perks that come with the creation of a bee lawn. They require less maintenance, they reduce fossil fuel use because they require less frequent mowing, they're conservation friendly because they require less water and they provide pollination sources. If you're into wild bee conservation, you'll be pleased to see lots of native species on your lawn.

Getting started

1    Mow your lawn down as short as possible. Then use a rake to remove all of the lawn clippings to expose the soil.

2    Aerate your lawn. This involves creating small holes (using a shovel or an aerating machine) in your lawn in order to allow air, water and nutrients to enter the grass’s roots. It's not required, but it does help the roots of your plants grow deeper and stronger.

3    Spread the seeds (see below) over the grass.

What you’ll need

1. Short flowers: These can cater to different kinds of bees, which have varying levels of nectar needs and access. Once sprouted, these short flowers can be mowed to three inches or higher. Examples include white clover, creeping thyme, self heal and ground plum.

2. Grasses: Fine fescues are ideal because they have thin blades. Their longer roots and slow growth allow flowers to grow around them, and they do not need much maintenance.

3. Taller flowers (optional)

These flowers are optional and tend to add an aesthetic component to bee lawns. Once sprouted, they will grow above mowing height, so they should be added around the edges of the bee lawn or in the surrounding garden. Examples include prairie groundsel, lanceleaf coreopsis and calico aster.

Maintaining your lawn

Once planted, bee lawns are very easy to maintain. The longer you leave your grass to grow without mowing it, the better. University of Minnesota graduate student James Wolfin researches bee pollinator enhancement, and he advises letting the grass grow between four and six inches long.

Bee lawns are a relatively new practice, but all reports indicate that they have an incredible success rate in attracting a wide range of native species. In the past, flowering lawns have had a bad reputation, because they go against the look of a traditional green grass lawn, but that is changing. There is more acceptance now for non-traditional lawns, and for the presence of bees on people’s properties.

In some places, natural lawns are not only accepted, they’re openly encouraged. The city of Edmonton’s Front Yards in Bloom recognition program is about celebrating the efforts to make communities more beautiful. There is even a category for natural yards, judged by the Edmonton Native Plant Society, that awards bonus points for native plants of Albertan origin that attract pollinators!

Pollinators play a vital role in our food chain and are responsible for providing one-third of the food that we eat. We all have a responsibility to do our part to help them survive, and with bee lawns, you can create change easily and close to home.

Jackie Bastianon was the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) 2018 communications intern for the Alberta Region. She is currently studying journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa and hopes to use her writing skills to compel people to care about the environment as much as she does. The Conservation Internship Program is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Summer Work Experience program.

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