Getting Your Pollinator Friendly Yard Ready for Winter
The population of pollinators is declining worldwide. Habitat loss and lack of food for pollinators are the primary reasons for the decline, as well as pathogens and pesticide use. Although we tend to be more aware of pollinators (bees, butterflies, moths, beetles and some flies) in warm-weather months, there are things to do right now that are crucial to preserve pollinator habitat.
In Minnesota, our own state bee, the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee, is listed as endangered. In this Nature Notes blog post, Nora goes in-depth on Bumble Bees–their life cycle, habitat and their need for our help!
The good news is you can take local action to reverse the trend of population decline. And that’s “local” as in right in your own front yard. How? The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation says it best: “Leave the Leaves.”
Leave the Leaves
If you want a gold mine of information about helping pollinators, start with the Xerces Society. They are a conservation organization with a worldwide reputation for working with scientists, land managers, educators, policymakers, farmers as well as the general public.
From general information to how to talk to your neighbor about why “your” leaves might be blowing into their yard, from their own educational blog articles to yard signs (that’s where the “Leave the Leaves” slogan comes from), you can learn how to help pollinators year-round…and about the many different types of habitats it’s important to leave alone. Remember, pine needles are leaves too, as this blog post covers.
Leave More Than Leaves
If your yard has a lot of perennials, leaving them standing provides a winter home and protection for ground-nesting bees and other beneficial insects.
Standing perennials may also be a bonus for the birds, providing some seeds (depending on the plant) as well as a place to perch. Still not convinced? How about the fact that additional stems and stalks offer a place for snow to land which may help insulate the important parts of a perennial, like the crown.
But if you prefer a tidier yard over maximum benefit to creatures, there’s a lot of middle ground between leaving it all or stripping it all away, as this article from Northern Gardener on the pros and cons of leaving perennials standing explores.
Get a Start on Your Bee Lawn for Next Season
What is a bee lawn? It could be your lawn, made over to include low-growing flowers in addition to traditional turf grass. Lawns that are basically green space (i.e., not heavily used for recreation) are ideal.
Fall is the best time to plant a bee lawn according to the Minnesota State Horticultural Society and they even offer a handy video about how to do it. If you don’t want to give up lawns that are used as outdoor play space, another option is a pollinator pocket garden, which is a small full-sun garden packed full of treats for pollinators. Look for the plans for a pollinator pocket garden in the linked article above.
Go Even Bigger: Lawns to Legumes
But what if you love the pocket garden idea so much you want to skip the lawn and go big–creating as much pollinator friendliness as possible? The Lawns to Legumes program offers workshops, coaching, planting guides and cost-share funding for installing pollinator-friendly native plantings in residential lawns. Now through November 30, 2023, applications are open for their cost-sharing program. If your application is successful, funding may be used for Native Pocket Planting, Pollinator Beneficial Trees and/or Shrubs, Pollinator Lawns or Pollinator Meadows!
Supported by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, Lawns to Legumes began in 2019 and since then grant recipients have created more than 1.2 million square feet of pollinator habitat!